The Weekly Round-Up #298 With Island #2, BPRD Hell On Earth #134, Invincible #122, Star Wars #8, Book Of Death #2 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Island #2Island is officially my favourite comics series right now.  This monthly anthology is oversized both in size and page count, and is gorgeous, thought-provoking, and very entertaining.  Here’s a breakdown of this latest issue:

  • The book opens with six pages by Will Kirkby, whose art is reminiscent of James Stokoe mixed with Geof Darrow.
  • Ludroe completes his Dagger Proof Mummy story, which features some skate boarding, violent cats, and a girl who is looking for a lost skateboarder.  I like the simplicity of Ludroe’s story, and the expansiveness of his pages.
  • Simon Roy begins Habitat, a three part story, this month.  This series is an Aztec science fiction story, set on a giant space ship or station, where there is a divide between ‘civvies’ and ‘crew’.  Hank Cho has just become a part of Habsec, the security force, but it is suggested that he has mixed parentage and as such, some connections to the civvie population.  When he discovers an old punch card, and sneakily uses a 3D printer to build the design stored on it, it looks like there are going to be problems.  Roy’s art is lush, and the world he’s designed is fascinating.  He’s done similar things on Prophet, but I feel like his work has graduated to the next level here.
  • Emma Rios finishes her two-part story I.D. here as well.  This is a story about three people who are volunteering to have their brains transplanted into new bodies, and their different reasons for wanting to do this.  Where the first chapter explored their external world, this one is much more focused on just who these three people are, and why they want to take this drastic step (although that’s only true for two of the three; the last one stays pretty secretive about her motives).  Rios’s art is beautiful, and she really works at making this situation and these people believable.
  • This issue rounds out with two text pieces.  One is by a doctor who explains some of the science behind Rios’s story.  The other is an essay about an Italian-American airplane hijacker who achieved some small measure of fame in the 1960s.  Both are interesting.

I am very excited to see this series achieve success, and cannot recommend this comic enough.  It’s only $8 for 110 pages.  The next issue features contributors I’m only vaguely familiar with (from back-up stories in Prophet) or haven’t heard of, but I’m already excited to see what it has to offer.

Quick Takes:

Black Canary #3With this third issue, Brendan Fletcher fills in a lot of information, as Dinah chats with her husband, and we learn a little about the mystery of Ditto, they silent girl that plays with Dinah’s band, and who has been the focus of otherworldly and governmental attention.  I don’t like that there’s an older link between Dinah and Ditto; it feels a little lazy.  The rest of the issue works very well, especially the montage like sequence that cuts between a bus chase out of Mad Max and some cool concert scenes.  This book has been a nice surprise.

Book of Death #2 – This issue has Gilad facing down the Unity team, and he makes very quick work of them.  I’m a little surprised that, by this point in their relationship, they aren’t giving Gilad the benefit of the doubt with regards to his Geomancer charge, but if they did, this wouldn’t be much of an event.  Robert Gill is doing some great things with the art on this book.  I first saw his work on Gilad’s short-lived book, and thought that he’d quickly grow to be a superstar.  It’s nice to see that he’s right on track for that.

BPRD Hell on Earth #134 – The two-part story drawn by Julián Totino Tedesco ends this issue, as we continue to look back on events involving Sledgehammer, the vril-powered suit of armour that has been seen around the Mignolaverse.  By the end of the issue, someone new is in that armour, as Mike Mignola and John Arcudi build up towards their next big storyline, which, sadly, will be Arcudi’s last.  I’ve been very happy with this series for the last few years, and am a little trepidatious about where it will head without Arcudi.

Doctor Fate #3 – Nothing happened in this issue that propels the story forward at all.  Khalid is still unsure of his new abilities, the city is still flooding, and his dad is still in the hospital.  Everything about this issue was just treading water.  If it weren’t for Sonny Liew’s interesting art, I never would have picked this comic up in the first place, and now that is the only reason I’ve continued buying it.  We don’t know Khalid well enough yet to like him, and I don’t have any notion of what shape this series will take after the first arc.  I see a lot of potential here, but none of it is being put to use yet.  Is Liew’s art enough to get me to buy the next issue?  I’m not sure…

Green Lantern: Lost Army #3And here, I think, is where I jump off this series.  I stopped reading Green Lantern books when they became way too intertwined on themselves, and too concerned with the emotional spectrum.  It seemed like every storyline was about the rings, or different coloured rings, or people who wanted the rings, and where once Green Lanterns were space cops, they’d become people who fought off threats to themselves.  Now, this series felt like it would be more self-contained; a group of Lanterns are somewhere very far away from the worlds they know, and that limits the possibilities for tie-ins and guest stars.  Except, Cullen Bunn has them meeting with Relic, who I believe has recently been a villain in the GL books, and has them learn that the universe they are in is dying due to a depletion of the emotional spectrum, or some such thing.  Now, what looked like a promising book is just the same old thing that GL has been about since before the New 52 launch.  No thanks.  It’s a shame, because Bunn is an excellent writer, and there are characters in this book I’d like to learn more about, not that they’re being given much space to shine.

Hellbreak #6 – We are starting, after a few issues spent setting up the status quo for this series, to dig a little deeper into the characters and the work that they do.  On their last mission, the team pulled a drug lord out of Hell, and lost one of their own along the way.  This has everyone questioning what they do, and dealing with it differently.  Jenner, the team leader, takes an interesting approach.  I like this book, although I don’t feel it’s as rich as Cullen Bunn’s The Sixth Gun, which I wish would get back on the publishing schedule.

Invincible #122 – Life on Talescira is pretty interesting, as Mark and Eve are constantly facing challenges that don’t seem to bother the other people on the planet.  It’s nice to see Mark and his brother getting along so well, and much of the issue is concerned with Thragg and what he’s been up to.  I don’t really understand the rumblings that I hear about Robert Kirkman rebooting Invincible soon; he’s built years of story and character development into this book, and I don’t want to see that wiped away.  At the same time, I’ve learned to really trust Kirkman that whatever crazy idea he has, it will end up making for good comics.

Ivar, Timewalker #8Ivar, his brothers, and Amelia Earhart make their assault on the space station at the end of time where Neela is being held, and things go a little weird, although apparently also completely according to Ivar’s plans.  That leaves this book without a central character, but I don’t believe it will stay that way for long.  This series is a lot of fun, and Fred Van Lente is doing some interesting things with his approach to time.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #17 – Al Ewing and Lee Garbett wrap up this series this month, and it ends quite well.  This has always been a unique comic – more thoughtful than the vast majority of Marvel’s books, and concerned with some concepts that remind me of early Vertigo titles, back when they still acknowledged the DC Universe.  Loki has a conversation with the gods that the gods believe in, and then meets his older self for the last time.  Ewing should be immensely proud of what he’s been able to do with this title.

Manifest Destiny #16 – This is a very good issue of this excellent series, which gives us a look at Ferzon culture (these are talking bird-creatures that the Lewis and Clark expedition have discovered on their travels), get a hint that the various species we’ve seen in the series are not from Earth, and get to see some high-stakes negotiations.  This series never fails to impress with its inventiveness, and I like that writer Chris Dingess is starting to build on the character of Sacagawea.  

Rai #9 – I’m very pleased to see this series come back.  I don’t normally love Clayton Crain’s art, but he’s really made this series his own, and I can’t imagine it being drawn by anyone else.  Matt Kindt has jumped ahead a little in time for this new arc, as we see that Father has gotten back thing back to normal in New Japan, which means that people are a little more controlled than they were before, and all avenues of rebellion have been shut down.  We check in with all the main characters, including Rai, who has been dumped on Earth and left for dead.  It feels like a lot of things Kindt started with in the beginning of the series are moving towards a pay-off now.

Revival #32A lot of big things happen in this issue, as the Cypress sisters square off over whether or not they should kill Blaine Abel, Sheriff Cypress learns of a big secret, and the government learns what happens when one of the ghostly-creatures gets to one of the revived.  This series has been feeling like it’s been building towards something for a while now, and I’m getting impatient to learn what that might be.

Secret Six #5 – After many months of not fully knowing what’s going on in this series, a lot of stuff is laid bare with this issue.  We learn just why the Riddler is after the Six (if not why he calls himself Mockingbird), we get Ralph Dibney’s story (but don’t know why he had to become Big Shot), and see that the confrontation with the Riddler will take place next month.  My hope is that Gail Simone gets all this setup stuff out of the way quickly, so that we can start to see where the team goes next.  My hope is that Scandal will be sticking around moving forward.

Star Wars #8 – Stuart Immonen has come onboard as the new series artist, and I think I already don’t miss John Cassaday.  This is a very good issue, as we get to meet Han’s wife (or not, depending on who you believe), and as Luke heads out on a foolhardy task that is sure to get him in a lot of trouble.  Jason Aaron writes Han and Leia beautifully this issue, and Immonen manages to get the characters and the technology right, which few artists are capable of doing.  This book has been so much better than I ever expected it to be.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #7 – I love Stray Bullets, and have since the series got its start way back in the day, but I’ve always hated the Amy Racecar issues.  These take the familiar characters, and cast them in a funhouse science fiction Elseworlds timeline, where Amy runs around killing things.  They sometimes provide insight into characters in the current arc, and are probably fun to write and draw, but they are not for me.  They are a complete counterpoint to the balanced and thoughtful work that David Lapham does in every other issue of this series.

Trees #12This arc of Trees has been following two storylines.  In New York, the mayor elect is working his own agenda before taking office.  This issue, he meets with the Commissioner in private, to basically effect a takeover of the NYPD, the biggest gang in town.  Dr. Creasy settles into her role in Northern England, and discovers a bit of a coverup.  Warren Ellis’s writing on this book has been great.  I really enjoy the way he takes a multifaceted approach to examining the outcome of an alien contact event.

Weirdworld #3 – Jason Aaron must be having a good time writing this series, as he just keeps tossing in old Marvel properties (Man-Thing, Skull the Slayer) and having them mix it up with Arkon.  There’s not a whole lot to this comic, but with Mike Del Mundo’s amazing visuals, it’s well worth buying.

Wolf #2 – Wolf is Ales Kot’s new ongoing series, and after two issues, I’m pretty pleased with it.  Kot borrows a page from Joss Whedon’s Angel, setting up Mr. Wolfe as a mediator between normal and the paranormal.  In this issue, he deals with his friend’s vampiric landlords, and has to put up with the possible antichrist, a teenage girl whose parents were just murdered, staying at his place.  Reading this description, it sounds like this book might be a light comedy, but it’s played more like an issue of Hellblazer, as we begin to learn a little more about Wolfe, and we get a look at the realities of the private prison industrial complex.  Kot is set to do some cool things with this series; it’s a good time to get in on the ground floor.

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

1872 #2

Burning Fields #7

Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders #2

Dark Horse Presents #13

Guardians Team-Up #10

Nanjing The Burning City

Robin Son of Batman #3

Young Terrorists #1

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1I honestly don’t care if Spider-Man is married or not.  Some of the stories that came out since OMD were among the best of the character’s long career.  As such, I wasn’t all that excited to see that at least on Battleworld, one version of Peter is still with Mary Jane, and that they have a daughter together.  I just thought I’d check this out because I mostly like Dan Slott on Spidey.  This was a very strange issue though, as over the course of it, Slott killed off all the other Marvel heroes, leaving just Peter, who has decided to abandon his hero identity to focus on raising and protecting his kid.  It rings false; Parker’s guilt is usually the focus of too many of his stories, and it’s tiresome.  I feel like I know where this is headed already.

Armor Wars #1 – The original Armor Wars story remains one of my favourite Iron Man stories of all time (and now, I kind of want to reread that).  This, on the other hand, is a mess that did nothing to make me care about it, or be interested in it, aside from the way it confirms how James Robinson talks about himself in Airboy.

Black Widow #14&15 – I think my issue with Nathan Edmondson’s Black Widow series is that it’s too generic.  I don’t really feel like this is Natasha, and while watching her track down and begin dismantling a secretive criminal organization is cool, it says nothing new about her character.  Phil Noto’s art is so nice though.

Crossed Badlands #5-8 – Jamie Delano’s story about a motley crew of survivors hanging out in the Florida Everglades is fun at times, but doesn’t always make sense to me.  The fat camp scenes did make me laugh though…

E is For Extinction #2I can’t even really summarize what all is going on in this issue, because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  There is a big fight between two generations of X-Men, over Magneto’s keeping of a Phoenix Egg (which might also be Jean), and some other stuff happens with Hank McCoy.  I don’t know what this series is going for, aside from being one big homage to the Morrison/Quitely era of X-Men.  The thing is, I’m enjoying it just for that reason, and I’m pretty impressed with what Ramon Villalobos is doing, art-wise.

Fables #143-149 – The last batch of single issues of Fables recaptures some of the missing aura of the earlier seventy-five issues of the run, as we finally learn the truth behind Snow White and Rose Red’s antagonism towards each other.  We also get a lot of last stories, but the big build up, to be finished in the final trade volume, doesn’t leave me all that excited.  I’ve always felt like this series would have been better remembered had it finished shortly after the Adversary was defeated.  Bill Willingham just wasn’t able to maintain the book successfully over such a long run.  I will get that final trade; there’s no way I’ll have read 149 issues of something, plus a couple of spin-off titles and OGNs, without finishing the whole story.  

Future Imperfect #1 – If you were running a land with an iron fist, would you name it Dystopia?  Seriously?  Peter David shows us a patch of Battleworld where the Maestro, his evil old Hulk character, rules, but we don’t know enough about things to care.  David always does interesting work with Ruby, the future daughter of Scott Summers, but with Greg Land drawing, this quickly falls into mediocrity.

Guardians of Knowhere #1This book gets a lot of points with me for including Mantis, but aside from that, it’s kind of a hodge-podge, as we learn that Angela has it in for Gamora, and that Gamora does not believe in Doom (which is weird, because she has cosmic powers, and everyone else in the Secret Wars series seem to have had contact with him).  Like the usual Guardians series, this is enjoyable in its parts, but doesn’t ever seem to go anywhere.

Inferno #1&2 – I was mildly curious to see what Inferno would be like, especially since I’ve recently reread the X-Factor issues of that 80s crossover for my Retro-Reviews column.  This is nothing like that, as we learn that in this corner of Battleworld, the demons won, and have sealed off most of Manhattan.  Cyclops leads a small band of X-Men who patrol the borders and contain the infestation, but every year, Colossus leads a group in to try to rescue Illyana.  The story is fine, as a complete What If? that has nothing to do with Secret Wars, and while I like Javier Garron’s art, I’d expected it to adhere more to the dominant styles of that time, echoing Marc Silvestri or Walter Simonson, so that it would achieve a period feel.  I see no reason to finish reading this story.

Infinity Gauntlet #1&2 – This has to be my favourite of the Secret Wars tie-in series so far.  It’s set in a city devastated by giant insects (Annihilation Wave?), and centres on the family of a missing Nova who have been surviving on the run for a while now.  She returns, and gives her husband, two daughters, and the family dog, Nova helmets.  There’s some stuff about the Infinity Gems, which is a little unfortunate, really, and a Thanos or two (I’m not sure if one of them is the 616 version), but what really makes this comic work is two things:  1) The incredible art of Dustin Weaver, and 2) the strong sense of family and character development.  I’m already hoping that we see some of these characters survive this event, and would gladly buy a book by Gerry Duggan and Weaver again.

Red Skull #1I didn’t have any idea what to expect of this miniseries, but I was pleased to find it being a Marvel version of Suicide Squad, as Crossbones tosses a bunch of villains (and Bucky) over the Shield to look for proof that the Red Skull is really dead.  There’s a lot of set-up for a pretty quick payoff, but this darker look at Battleworld was interesting.

Secret Wars Battleworld #1&2 – I don’t understand this anthology series at all.  It seems like each issue has a humourous story (MODOKs, Blade and Howard the Duck) balanced by a more series, almost completely forgettable other story.  There’s not enough space to get readers invested, and the result is that these stories are one step lower than a What If? and more like dashed off fan fiction.

Secret Wars Journal #1 – I’d expected this series to be like the Front Line series that used to accompany Marvel’s main events – a look into the lives of ordinary people affected by the Secret Wars stuff.  Instead, this is another anthology series.  The first story explains how Kate Bishop ends up at the Shield, while the second is an X-Men/Moon Knight/Werewolf By Night mash-up.  Both stories are fine, but not memorable.

1602: Witch Hunter Angela #1&2 – I’ve long suspected that I don’t like Marguerite Bennett’s writing, based on a few things that I’ve read, but the Angela series that ran prior to the great Secret Wars cancellation wave was really very good.  This SW series, sadly, is not.  Angela and Serah are wandering around some 17th Century woods, hunting Faustians, people who have made a deal with the Enchantress for powers.  The language is overblown, the writing is not straightforward, and Stephanie Hans’s art, while beautiful when looked at one panel at a time, obscures the story even more when taken in full.  

Spider-Verse #1-3After the success of the Spider-Verse event, I’m not surprised that Marvel decided to loop it into their Secret Wars event, but I feel like this has been done very strangely.  Six of the Spiders (-Gwen, -Ham, -UK, -Noir, India, and Anya) have shown up in the same world, with basically no memory of their former lives.  Norman Osborn is mayor of New York.  There is no real reference to Battleworld, Doom, or anything else going on in Secret Wars, and world knowledge (i.e., the existence of India) suggests that this is just an Elseworlds book.  I do like Andre Lima Araújo’s art, as I did in the otherwise forgettable Avengers AI, but I don’t see the point of this series.  It’s definitely not as compelling as the first Spider-Verse.

Wolverines #13 – This issue of this series stands out, in that it barely touches on the book’s usual characters, instead being about Deadpool, and his desire to fill in Wolverine’s place in the Marvel Universe.  To that end, he tries to recreate his first appearance by fighting She-Hulk (which gives Charles Soule the chance to return to our favourite lawyer’s office, alone worth the price of the comic), and tries to join a variety of teams.  The issue is funny, but also a little sad.  I think that artist Jason Masters is someone we should be watching.

X-Tinction Agenda #1 – I was surprised by how much I liked this first issue, which is set in a world where Havok and Rahne stayed in a Genosha that has become quarantined due to the Legacy Virus.  Our heroes, watching their people die, are desperate to get their hands on a healer the X-Men are refusing to share, and they launch an attack on their headquarters.  Marc Guggenheim has a good handle on these characters, and Carmine Di Giandomenico does well with his redesigns.

Years of Future Past #1 – In yet another New York on Battleworld, mutants are kept in concentration camps, with power-dampening collars.  A few X-Men, led by Kate Pryde, have remained free and/or working for the government (President?  Robert Kelly), but now they are ready to fight for their people’s freedom, with Kate’s daughter and Logan’s son playing key roles.  This isn’t bad, but I don’t much care about what happens next.  It’s nice to see Mike Norton on a high-profile book, but I’m not sure that this plays to his strengths.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Boxers

by Gene Luen Yang

I’ve been a fan of Gene Luen Yang’s work since I read American Born Chinese a few years ago.  He has a simplistic approach that gives way to intelligent storytelling with great depth.  Boxers is one half of a two-book set (with Saints, which is on my to-read pile) that examines the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th Century.

Boxers focuses on Little Bao, an illiterate youth growing up in a small village in a remote province of China.  His area is isolated, and while the people are poor, they are able to eke out a decent living.  One day, during a spring festival, they are visited by a boorish lout who rightly gets his ass handed to him by Bao’s father.  It turns out that this man is a Christian convert, and like good Christians everywhere, returns to exact revenge, bringing a white man with him.  This man smashes the statue of a much-loved god, and steals food from the village that he believes is rightful restitution.

As time goes on, we see how the influence of the missionaries and European governments are damaging traditional Chinese social structures.  When Bao’s father goes to complain to a local government leader about how the village is being treated, he is set upon by foreign soldiers and beaten so badly he never recovers his faculties.

Into this tense setting comes Red Lantern Chu, a brother of the Big Sword Society.  He begins to help the locals to resist the foreigners and the secondary devils (what they call the converts).  He does not allow Bao to participate in his kung fu training, but then begins to teach the youth in secret.

Eventually, Red Lantern is killed, and Bao continues training under a different master.  Here the story veers towards magical realism, as Bao begins to channel a Chinese god when he fights, rescuing his older brothers from certain death.  From here, Bao begins to gather supporters for his fight against the foreigners, leading an ever-growing army towards Peking.

Along the way, Bao meets Mei-Wen, who herself begins to lead a group of female warriors.  We follow Bao and his people through the end of the Boxer Rebellion.

This is a very interesting book.  I don’t know very much about this time period, and so don’t know where Yang has diverted from established fact (somewhere before all the Gods show up, I imagine).  I do get the feeling that this book has been meticulously researched and is more accurate, in it’s unique way, than it isn’t.  I know that Saints tells a similar story, but from the perspective of a ‘secondary devil’, and I’m curious to know that interpretation, especially since my own inclinations lean towards seeing things through Bao’s eyes, in a post-colonial perspective.

Yang builds his story very nicely.  He invests a lot of time in developing Bao, who is bullied by his older brothers and then ends up leading them.  He makes Bao’s relationship with Mei-Wen believable, as are the internal conflicts Bao needs to resolve to be a strong leader.

There is a sense of misogyny in this work that doesn’t sit well with me, as male characters discuss how contact with females can dilute their concentration and power.  There is an attempt to balance this through Mei-Wen, but it’s often not enough.  At the same time, this is a work of historical fiction, and I imagine that Yang is being accurate in his portrayal of how women were treated.

Yang’s artwork is straight-forward, but very effective in portraying emotion and thought.  He uses a slightly drab colour palette throughout most scenes, but when the gods enter the story, things become brighter and a little garish.

This book is a remarkable piece of work, and I look forward to reading its companion.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Jim Fern, Craig Hamilton, Ray Snyder, and Mark Farmer

As Fables came closer and closer to its conclusion, I began to get interested in the series again (although, interested does not always mean invested in or entertained by), and picked up Werewolves of the Heartland, the standalone OGN that spotlights Bigby Wolf that came out in 2012.Bigby is out searching for a new possible location for Fabletown (this is in the era when Mister Dark had taken their home from them), and stumbles across Story City.  The name intrigues him, but he is even more interested to learn that the entire town is populated by werewolves that view him as their god (although that doesn’t put them above wanting to kill him).  Even more surprising is the appearance of an old war companion of Bigby’s, and an ex-Nazi villainess.

There is a lengthy flashback to Bigby’s WWII days, and his mission in Castle Frankenstein, which actually takes me back to the earliest issues of Fables that I read, around about the mid-thirties.

As the story progresses, Bigby comes to realize that there is a lot going wrong in Story City.  A cabal has been plotting to overthrow their leaders (who happen to also be their parents, for most of them) and see Bigby’s arrival as a good chance to do that.  This leads to a big battle, and lots of killing, as none of these werewolves have any clue just how powerful Bigby really is.

This book really eschewed the ‘Fables’ aspect of Fables, not taking any cues from folklore.  It also read as more mature than the parent Fables series has for years, although that is mostly due to copious amounts of non-sexual nudity (and a bit of sexual nudity, as a young woman tries to seduce Bigby).

The art in this book is nice, but the combination of Craig Hamilton and Jim Fern is an odd one.  They are both fine artists, but they have very different styles (even though Fern handled layouts for the whole book).  Hamilton’s pencils, especially when he is the one inking them, are very detailed and realistic, while Fern tends towards the slightly more abstract.  I found the switch from one to the other to be jarring at times.

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