The Weekly Round-Up #301 With Bitch Planet #5, Head Lopper #1, Ninjak #7, Unity #22 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Bitch Planet #5I spent much more time with this latest issue of Bitch Planet than I do almost any comic other than Island and Sex Criminals.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro are giving us a comic that rewards close, careful reading.  This issue wraps up the first story arc, showing a practise between the female prisoners that will be forming a Megaton team – the first female one ever – and their guards that gets incredibly rough.  It also introduces a new character, an architect and builder who is being sent to ‘Bitch Planet’ to construct a stadium for the upcoming Megaton games, but who also has a personal connection to the facility.  The story is good, and the ending truly shocking, but once I finished the comic part of the comic, there was a lot more to absorb.  As with most issues, there is an excellent and thought-provoking essay that addresses some of the intersectionality of feminism, followed by a truly impressive letters page column that runs for pages.  Like with Sex Criminals, this is a book that has really begun to resonate with a section of the comics reading public that is worlds apart from what people immediately think of as the comics reading public.  DeConnick and her collaborators are doing much more than telling an excellent story through beautiful comics art, they are building a real community and raising consciousness.  This is a very special comic (I just wish it came out more often).

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #26 – The Florida story ends rather abruptly, and in ways I don’t completely understand.  I’m in the process of culling my Mignolaverse purchases, but had intended to stick with this title, despite the fact that it’s been very uneven of late.  Now, I’m starting to wonder if that’s a good idea or not…

The Bunker #14Joshua Hale Fialkov is upping the stakes for a number of things in this latest issue of this complex and rewarding series.  Heidi has been arrested, set up by the future versions of Grady and Natasha, but her friends, including her new girlfriend, are rallying to her side, in ways that might make the future folks’ plan fall apart.  This book, like many others this week, is going on a hiatus, and leaving on a very high note.

Crossed Plus One Hundred #8 – Future has set out with the balloon operator from Gapple, trying to get a sense of whether or not other communities have been infiltrated by the Crossed, although this puts her at great risk.  Simon Spurrier continues to do a great job of furthering Alan Moore’s work setting up this title, and keeps the book just as compelling and quick-moving.  He also continues to reference older works of science fiction as a way of isolating a theme for each issue, and that’s kind of cool.  The art, by Fernando Heinz, is growing on me.

Darth Vader #9 – I like Darth Vader, as a series, quite a bit, but am starting to wonder how so much of what Kieron Gillen is bringing to the operations of the Empire can be squeezed back into the shape of the first three movies.  We are seeing a great expansion of Vader’s associates within the Empire, as well as his own shadowy organization, none of which gets hinted at later on.  I like the new character he’s working with, who is trying to solve a crime perpetrated by Vader himself.  I really did not expect to be still as invested in this title this deep into it; I’d always assumed that the novelty of Marvel Star Wars comics would wear off (although, I don’t think I care at all about the Chewbacca or C3PO miniseries that are coming up).

Deadly Class #16 – The latest story arc wraps up, and man does it leave the reader in an interesting place, especially since it will be a few months before we see another issue.  Marcus has a lot of issues to deal with – his friends hate him, his roommate has betrayed him, a psycho jock is going to expose him or kill him, and now he might have a venereal disease as well.  On top of all of this, we learn the big secret of the assassin school Marcus attends, as final examinations are not what he expected (although, to us, rather obvious).  This is a such a great comic – the characters feel very real, and Wesley Craig’s art is stupendous.  A great issue all around.

The Fuse #14This story arc, Perihelion, is interesting, because writer Antony Johnston has really switched up the structure of the series, making this arc more sprawling in nature.  The Fuse station is at perihelion, its closest point to the sun, and because of that, there is a huge celebration taking place.  We get to look on many aspects of life on the station against that backdrop – people party and protest, while an escaped convict continues to evade capture, a serial killer goes about his work, and an aging gangster suffers a heart attack.  This has been a very interesting series right from its beginning, and I love the procedural nature of its standard arcs, but this one is refreshing and quite interesting.

Gotham Academy #10 – I find myself really on the fence with this title.  It’s an enjoyable read, but between its constant referencing of old Batman characters that I don’t quite remember, the way that weird threats keep showing up at the school only to be stopped by a group of very lucky children, and its cutesy factor, I find the book becoming less and less credible.  There hasn’t been enough focus on the characters lately, and that’s causing me to lose interest.  If it weren’t for Karl Kerschl’s awesome art, I’d probably have jumped ship by now.

Head Lopper #1 – I picked up this very meaty comic on the recommendation of the staff at the store where I shop, and they are very rarely wrong.  This comic, by Andrew Maclean, is a lot of fun.  It’s a pretty typical wandering barbarian demigod story, as Norgal, the Head Lopper, arrives in a kingdom and solves their sea monster problem.  He quickly gets involved in a plot by a dangerous wizard, who is manipulating things so Norgal is sent to kill him, with the goal of his getting his hands on the head of the Blue Witch, which is Norgal’s travelling companion.  The art is a little unrefined and cartoonish, but I found myself settling comfortably into the story pretty quickly.  This book is pricy at $6, but substantial enough to make that seem like a very good deal.

Injection #5At the end of the first arc, we finally get the bigger picture of just what the Injection is/was (although it was getting pretty obvious before that), as Maria handles the spriggen situation, and the cunning man consults with a fairy tale figure.  Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey have been taking their time setting this book up, and that has given me time to get really interested in the central concept, that a non-human intelligence, modelled on British folklore, lives in the Internet.  This book should continue to get more and more cool.

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire #1 – Have you seen the viral video of the weatherman who pronounces perfectly the fifty-eight letter long name of a Welsh town?  I thought of that when realizing that the title for this series is forty-six letters long, which is ridiculous.  There was a lot of excitement building for this series.  It’s the first that shows what happened after the original movies, in the newer continuity that has been rebuilt since Disney purchased Lucasfilm.  It starts a long road towards next year’s highly anticipated movie.  It is written by Greg Rucka, and drawn by Marco Checchetto, two highly respected creators; the latest in a line of great people working on very good Star Wars comics at Marvel.  And, immediately upon its release, I saw negative reviews.  Personally, I think that the comic is the victim of too much hype; this is a perfectly fine comic.  We meet an A-Wing pilot, and see much of the Battle of Endor through her perspective (although, strangely, not the explosion of the Death Star), and then follow her to the Ewok village on the moon for the celebration, and through some mopping up.  She, and her commando husband, do feel like pretty stock characters at this point, but that’s kind of what Star Wars does.  It’s cool to see her casually interact with some of the big-name characters, but at the end of the day, this is basically just an issue long set-up for the rest of the miniseries, which looks like it will feature Han Solo and his squad dealing with Imperial holdouts.  It’s pretty much exactly what I expected from this comic, and it looks good.  I don’t know what people are being so critical of.  Personally, I expect that the new movie will be much more disappointing, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Letter 44 #20Charles Soule has done some very impressive things in this series, which is about politics and alien encounters, but this issue threw me for a couple of loops.  An asteroid is bearing down on the Earth, and while the crew of the Clarke, way out at the edge of the solar system, attempt a desperate act to stop it, President Blade’s own plans fall apart back home when he is betrayed.  Soule makes it look like things are going to end very badly, and then the story swerves in another direction completely, which I did not see coming at all.  This is a great, endlessly unpredictable, comic.

Ms. Marvel #18 – Kamala wraps up her team-up with Captain Marvel while her brother gets some new powers, and the world continues to end.  G. Willow Wilson hits some nice emotional notes in this issue, and the last two pages promise some interesting moments in the next issue with regards to Kamala’s relationship with her family.  This is a good read.

Ninjak #7 – Another issue, another member of the Shadow Seven taken out by Ninjak.  This was another solid, if now slightly formulaic, issue.  My problem with it lies in the fact that with Juan Jose Ryp drawing it, I mistakenly thought that the villain for the issue was the woman that was Kannon’s bodyguard (Roku?).  Ryp’s a great artist, but he doesn’t do enough to differentiate people.  To be fair, a lot of comics artists have this problem, but they are usually working with better-established characters.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #12 – Another title I am really enjoying it going on a brief hiatus, and leaves us with a very cool moment.  Kyle’s sister has been possessed, and that’s what it takes to finally really push him to confront all that’s been going on his life.  This issue feels like a turning-point moment, giving the series structure moving forward.  This series is really quite good.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #2 It’s great to be back in the Phonogram world, even if I don’t share the same shorthand of British band names and never spent tons of time in the 80s watching music videos.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie always tell a great story when they work together, and this is a gorgeous comic.  In this issue, Aster is exiled to a land of music video homage, while her other half takes over her body and proceeds to dismantle her coven.  It’s pretty good stuff.

Rebels #6 – The first story arc of this series ends here, as does the American Revolution, which leaves this comic in an interesting place.  Is the series going to continue to be about Seth, and his problems reintegrating into family life (which is what this issue is about), or is the structure of this comic going to be like Brian Wood’s Northlanders, and just move on to another aspect of the war?  I’m good either way, as I find Wood is very good at writing historical comics.  I’m sure, if I bothered with press releases and promotional materials, I’d already know the answer to my question, but I prefer to engage with comics by creators I trust unencumbered, to the extent that is possible, by promo stuff.  I look forward to the next issue to find out where this is going, especially if it’s going to be as good as this issue was.

Siege #3 – This series, the only Secret Wars book written by Kieron Gillen (at least, written on his own), is a much bigger disappointment than I’d expected.  This guy has taken just about every bad corporate-driven story idea he’s been thrown and turned it into gold, but between the rushed pacing, lack of proper character development, and incredibly unclear artwork (by Felipe Andrade – the guest artists are great), this has turned into a bit of a mess.  There’s some glimmers of the potential for greatness peeking through the cracks in places, like his use of Unite, a pair of robots that are identical to the character Unit he used in his SWORD and X-Men series, but it’s not enough for me.

Starve #4I have been completely absorbed by Starve since I read the first issue, but with this issue, Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj turn things up a notch, as a new challenge on the reality TV show this series is named after now has Gavin and his new teammates having to physically fight their way into restaurant kitchens to prepare dishes before a clock runs out.  I like how Wood has been extrapolating the future of reality TV, foodie culture, and economic inequality in this series, and setting it against a backdrop of familial drama.  An ad in the back of the book reminded me that this is not the first time that Wood has written a violent food comic (the excellent Couscous Express), and like that he’s returning to his earliest themes.  Zezelj is the perfect artist for this book; no one could do it better.

Suiciders #6 – Lee Bermejo wraps up what turns out to be the first arc of this series (I thought this would be the end of the whole thing) quite well.  My predictions around the parallel structure of the series are proven correct, which always makes me feel smart, even when things are perhaps pretty obvious, and we watch two major characters go through mirrored transitions.  Bermejo’s art on this book has been great, and I’m sure to return for the next arc in 2016.

Unity #22 – The fight with War Monger comes to a close, and Matt Kindt wraps things up very well, even if he does have to rely on a new character to get us to a credible ending.  This is a good series, but I like it best when the team works together, something we haven’t seen for a good number of issues now.

The Walking Dead #146After the traumatic events of two issues ago, the Community has to figure out how to proceed.  Rick gets into another fist fight with an old friend (how many times is this now?), while everyone tries to process their loss.  The first eight pages of this issue are completely silent, and really give Charlie Adlard a chance to convey a wide variety of emotions.  It’s some pretty strong stuff.

The Wicked + The Divine #14 – Now this was a pretty interesting issue, as artist Jamie McKelvie just recycled art from previous issues, remixing it (and a scene from Sex Criminals as well) as needed, to tell the story from Wotan’s perspective.  That in turn led to us learning some secrets about what has been going on in this series from the very beginning.  Mysteries are solved, while new ones are introduced, and in the end, this is a very effective issue of a terrific series.

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

Batman #44

Boy-1 #2

Crossed Badlands #85

Harrow County #5

Justice League United #13

Mercury Heat #3

Secret Wars 2099 #5

Tet #1

Virgil

Bargain Comics:

Black Widow #16-19I feel like perhaps Nathan Edmondson had to rush the end of his planned Chaos storyline, as things wrap up very quickly, and not all that satisfyingly.  More interesting is the way in which Edmondson starts to dig into Natasha’s childhood and early days as an assassin for the Soviet Union.  We see the beginning of her first mission, and it’s much more gripping.  I think it’s criminal that I haven’t seen more discussion of how good Phil Noto’s art is on this book.

1872 #1&2 – I think Gerry Duggan might just be the star of Secret Wars for me, as he’s taken two opportunities (here and in Infinity Gauntlet) to carve out a more individual and entertaining story from the morass of Secret Wars miniseries.  This book, set in a Wild West corner of Battleworld, works quite well.  Wilson Fisk runs the town of Timely, and the only resistance to him is Steve Rogers.  When Fisk’s men plan to lynch Red Wolf, Rogers stops them, and sets himself on a path of finally resisting.  It’s cool how some of the standard Marvel characters are used here (Otto Octavius being a favourite), and I like Nik Virella’s art.

Ghost Racers #1 – I haven’t read any of Felipe Smith’s All-New Ghost Rider, so I’m not familiar with Robbie Reyes, who is the hero of this book.  Basically, it seems that Arcade runs a race track where the Ghost Racers (some familiar faces here) race each other, and deal with other threats that pop up.  This is a fine comic, although there wasn’t enough to make me want to come back for more.

Guardians of Knowhere #2This comic has some of the nicest Mike Deodato art I’ve seen in a while.  I guess he had a lot of lead time before starting this series, because oftentimes his work looks a little rushed; here, it’s great.  I don’t feel the same for Brian Michael Bendis’s story though, which spends almost the entire issue establishing the backstory for Yotat, a very powerful bad guy, who wants to take over Knowhere, and who it seems only the Guardians are able to stand up against, although not well.  This series hasn’t done much to distinguish itself from the rest of the Secret Wars tie-in pack.

The Infinity Gauntlet #3 – This continues to be one of the best Secret Wars tie-in miniseries, and the credit for that can be shared between writer Gerry Duggan, who makes this title unique enough and filled with interesting new characters as well as novel takes on old ones, and artist Dustin Weaver, whose work is incredible.  This issue, Thanos (of Battleworld, not the one from the 616) uses his time gem to reset things a little, insinuating himself into the Nova family, to use them to get to the gems.  They join forces with Gamora (who is not Thanos’s daughter her, apparently) and Peter Quill, and we meet a couple more Guadians along the way.  My only complaint is that a character’s death is retconned away, and then happens again off-panel.  It was a little unclear.  Beyond that, I’m starting to think this book might be worth paying full price for.

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1&2 – While the regular Inhuman book under Charles Soule is gaining my interest lately, this Secret Wars take on the property is strange and not exactly working for me.  Black Bolt is running a network of people rebelling against Doom’s rule, while Medusa and her Inhumans (who, aside from Kamala Khan, are pretty generic and unknown) are working for Doom.  With more time taken to set up the status quo, I’m sure this would have been a lot more interesting and effective.  It took me forever to realize that the musician with the blindfold was Matt Murdock, and not the Inhuman who doesn’t have eyes.  

Secret Wars 2099 #3&4A lot of the Secret Wars tie-in books depend on the readers being familiar with the regular, 616 versions of characters that have been Elseworlds-ised for the purpose of the miniseries.  This has led to some pretty lazy writing in a lot of the series I’ve sampled so far.  The problem with this book, which shows futuristic versions of familiar characters, is that aside from Captain America, Peter David hasn’t put all that much effort into developing anyone, and that makes it very hard to care about what’s going on here.  My biggest problems with this book lie in the relative lack of plot, the weirdness of Miguel being played as a bad guy (when he’s the hero of Spider-Man 2099), and the bizarre choice to turn the Vision into the hybrid from Battlestar Galactica.

SHIELD #2-7 – I’m not sure what to think of this title.  On the one hand, I like the way that writer Mark Waid is working to integrate the television SHIELD characters into the Marvel Universe, but there are a number of problems with how that is being done.  The first five issues in this bunch do that quite well – we get a bunch of one-off stories, and a two-parter, where agents have to work with an established superhero (Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Invisible Woman, Scarlet Witch) in order to solve a problem.  It’s a good structure, and it gives the rather annoying Phil Coulson the chance to show off his superhero knowledge.  The rotating guest artists work well too, since we see some pretty impressive ones, like Alan Davis, Chris Sprouse, and Greg Smallwood.  Then, though, we hit issue seven, and we can almost hear the TV people insisting that the comic be better integrated with the show.  And so, we have Agent Daisy Johnston (who is supposed to be flying around space with Bucky Barnes, and is no longer part of SHIELD after what happened in Secret Avengers) suddenly getting the nickname Skye, and being Inhuman.  We also get Fitz referring to Coulson as ‘Director’, even though that’s Maria Hill’s job.  Let’s face facts – the TV show is not that good, and it should not be changing things in the Marvel Universe, where the characters are going to last much longer than the show will be remembered.  It’s dumb.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Grendel: Devil’s Legacy

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Arnold Pander, Jacob Pander, Jay Geldhof, and Rich Rankin

I really wish I’d taken the time to track down issues of Grendel and read the classic series in order years ago.  Instead, my approach has always been piecemeal – an issue here, an issue there, and I extended that into my reading of the trades.  At this point, I know I’ve read way more than I haven’t, so I don’t see the need to invest in theomnibi that Dark Horse has released, although it would be nice to revisit the series in chronological order.Devil’s Legacy first ran in the first twelve issues of the Grendel series at Comico starting in 1986, and followed up on the first Grendel story, featuring Hunter Rose, that appeared in Mage before that.Legacy is the story of Christine Spar, the daughter of Hunter Rose’s adopted daughter, Stacy Palumbo.  When this book opens, Christine is a reporter, living with her young son Anson in Manhattan.  They, with Spar’s friend Regina, attend a kabuki theatre presentation, and meet the show’s star, Tujiro, who comes off as kind of creepy.  We see him snatch a hair off of Anson’s head.  Later, the boy gets up in the night and walks off, meeting one of Tujiro’s associates, and he’s never seen again.

Spar, of course, reacts badly to this, but begins to piece together that this kind of thing often happens in the wake of Tujiro’s appearances.  She steals Hunter Rose’s mask and fork, and flies off to San Francisco to try to track down the killer.  We get to watch as she takes on the guise of Grendel, and it begins to affect her sense of self.  We also learn that Tujiro is not human.

There’s a lot more going on with this story though, as the old conflict between Grendel and Argent, the werewolf figure that runs the police in New York, rears its head again.

Wagner’s always been a great writer, and I feel like this is where he began to hit his stride.  He fills this book with strong character work, as we get to know Christine, her friend Regina, and meet Brian Li Sung, a stage manager who falls into Christine’s orbit.  The depth of their emotions for one another, considering the rather short timeframe of this story, do ring false from time to time, but I like how Wagner uses their relationship to set up the next chapter in Grendel’s history.

This series was drawn by the Pander Brothers, and mostly inked by Jay Geldhof.  The Panders are a bit of an acquired taste, especially since I can’t think of another book that is more visually tied to the 80s than this one.  All the characters, men and women alike, have massive shoulders that could only be caused by excessive padding, and the general design of the clothing just screams out that this is what people in the 80s thought that the future would look like.

It works for this series, bringing to mind the fashion drawings of that timeframe, but it does not always make for pretty comics, especially when the Panders are inking their own work.  Still, this is a solid comic, and I’m a bit surprised that I’d never read such a seminal chapter of the Grendel chronicles.

Suicide Risk Vol. 2Mike Carey’s Boom series gets better in the second volume, but that’s largely because it seems to abandon the concepts from the first volume almost completely, and make this comic be about a group of powered villains who want to annex and control the Yucatan as their own nation.  They force Leo, who is perhaps the reincarnation of another superbeing, Requiem, into helping them, and then he turns on them.  I don’t really know what Carey is trying to accomplish with this book; it feels like it needed a little more incubating before it was allowed into the world.  Case in point – there’s a character who can create anything she wishes for, including money, but she takes over a crime organization in order to get rich.  Why?

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