The Weekly Round-Up #308 With Island #4, Black Magick #1, Book Of Death #4, Hellboy & The BPRD: 1953 – The Phantom Hand & The Kelpie, Chew #51 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Island #4It’s a big surprise to me that Island is only hitting its fourth issue.  I already feel like this anthology series, run by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios, has been around for a while, it’s had such a strong effect on me.  This issue features a long Pop Gun War story by Farel Dalrymple, which is really two stories, I guess, and very strange.  I like Dalrymple’s work a great deal, so this made me pretty happy.  There is also a new chapter in Graham’s Multiple Warheads story, which feels a little unfocused, but is still a fun read.  Finally, there is a new story by Gael Bertrand, which is very beautiful.  Island is the best purchase a comics fan can make, with over 100 pages for only $8, and all of them are pushing the boundaries.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #45 – The half of this issue that has Barbara helping keep Alysia’s wedding running smoothly is very good, but the half of the issue that has Barbara and Dick Grayson talking, is problematic.  To begin with, we’ve seen Dick and Babs reconcile already in Grayson, and so having him show up here, insisting Barbara leave the wedding, just so he can see if he still has a chance with her, rings false on many levels.  It’s also improbable that Dick wouldn’t know Luke Fox, since he was active as Nightwing while Luke was Batwing, and they probably would have gotten to know each other.  Anyway, I’m finding myself more and more disenchanted with this series.  Actually, maybe not so much disenchanted as bored…

Black Magick #1This new series by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott starts off very well.  We meet Rowan Black, a Detective who also happens to be a practising Wiccan.  She receives a call during a ritual, and goes to a hostage-taking situation where the hostage taker has asked for her by name.  It’s clear that there’s some strange stuff going on, but Rucka isn’t saying much this early in the game.  Scott’s art, with its monochromatic grey, looks terrific, and Rucka quickly builds Black into a tough, interesting character.  I don’t usually go in for the occult stuff, but this has me curious for more.

Book of Death #4 – This is the second time that Valiant has finished one of their event series with the apparent death (or depowering) of a main character, only to immediately have that character return in his own series.  It’s probably something they should avoid doing again anytime soon.  This is a very good comic though, as Gilad and the Geomancer from the future confront Master Darque.  Robert Gill’s art on this event has been terrific – I want to see more of his work very soon.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #2 – Nick Spencer has squeezed a lot of exposition into the first two issues of this series, as he’s had to wrap up all of Rick Remender’s dangling plotlines, establish why Sam and Steve Rogers had a falling out, as well as explain why SHIELD is so unhappy with Sam as well.  Along the way, he’s thrown in the Marvel Universe’s version of Edward Snowden, the Armadillo, and the Sons of the Serpent, as well as a fair amount of political position-taking.  And, I think I love it.  The best thing about this issue is the way in which Spencer shows Roger’s and Wilson’s different opinions about whether or not a person can receive a fair trial for a political crime in today’s America.  These two men have very different historical understandings of American justice, and while race never entered the conversation, Spencer made it clear that it informed the conversation.  I like seeing superheroes more engaged in issues of the day, and with the election cycle gearing up in the US, illegal immigration is front and centre.  I wonder how the Fox News crowd is responding to this comic…

Chew #51A few years have passed since the events of the last issue of Chew (which was a very momentous issue), and we spend this year catching up with Olive, who is working as an intern at the White House kitchen, when EGG attacks.  I’ve missed this book while it was on hiatus over the last few months, and now that there are only nine issues remaining, I don’t have the first clue where John Layman and Rob Guillory plan on taking it (aside from the funeral scene we’ve seen a few times that is going to be in issue 60).  It’s interesting that Tony isn’t in this issue at all, but we do get to check in on Toni in heaven (and she’s doing quite well for herself).

From Under Mountains #2 – The story that Marian Churchland and Claire Gibson are telling in this series really owes a lot to Game of Thrones, but this still manages to keep my interests.  After the death in the first issue, the family in control of an outpost of a larger nation that is having its own problems with leadership is reeling.  This is a very lovely book, thanks to the art of Sloane Leong, and while the writers are taking a very slow approach to their story, it has me very interested.

Gotham by Midnight #10 – Corrigan and Drake are on the run from the rest of the GCPD, while their friend goes looking for the ghost of the nun who worked with the Midnight Shift before she died.  This series is never dull, and with Juan Ferreyra on art, it looks terrific.  With only two more issues remaining, I doubt that anyone is going to start reading this title now, but I hope a lot of people check out the trades when this is all over, because this is one of DC’s more innovative and interesting titles.

Grayson #13The spy fun continues, as Grayson’s self-appointed mission to discover the secrets of Agent Zero has him working to manipulate the secretive, manipulative organization he’s working for.  Most interesting this month is the appearance of Ladytron, the old WildCATS character, as an agent of the God Garden.  This series is the only one I intend to pay $4 a month for at DC; that has to say something about its quality.

Hellboy and the BPRD: 1953 – The Phantom Hand & The Kelpie – I sometimes think I like Hellboy best when his stories are very short.  This one-shot has two stories of young Hellboy’s time with the BPRD, but they both really only feature him and Bruttenholm visiting one of the Professor’s old friends in England.  One story has a severed hand, and the other a water horse.  It’s decent stuff, with very nice art from Ben Stenbeck.

Manifest Destiny #18 – At one point in this issue, Lewis and Clark, celebrating a victory with a group of sentient alien birds, make sure that they are referred to as ‘Americans’, and then by the end of the issue, they are careful to prove their American-ness, in a particularly brutal scene.  I’ve really liked this series so far, and feel like this issue, which proves that no other group of people or species would have been treated differently from the indigenous people of America, raised my esteem of the series even higher.  This is a great book, and I’m looking forward to the next arc in 2016.

Pastaways #7 – This felt like a pretty big issue of Pastaways, as the ramifications of the last issue (that saw a member of the team killed, despite the fact that that’s supposed to be impossible) sink in, and as the team members turn on one another.  This is a good series.  It’s not a complete replacement for Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, but I do like the way Kindt plays with some familiar ideas here.  More importantly, after having recently re-read his Avengers work for my Retro Reviews column, I can really appreciate how much Scott Kolins has grown as an artist over the last fifteen years.  I like his work here.

Revival #34 The tone of this book is shifting quite a bit lately, as Dana has to work harder than ever to hold her family together.  Her and her father have a nice moment this month, and we learn a little more about the government’s secret operations in the quarantine area.  This is a very good series that has never let me down, but as it gets ready to enter its fourth year, I’m wondering how much longer this story is set to run.

Reyn #9 – In this issue, we learn the history of the Venn, the creatures that have been trying to exert control over the humans on this world/ship.  We also learn something surprising about Reyn, which will have big repercussions on issues to come.  This is an exciting, if a little too decompressed, series.

Rumble #8 – Rumble is a weird little comic.  It features a sad sack bartender and his oddball friend, and their budding friendship with the recently resurrected war god from the time before people evolved.  This issue is a standalone Hallowe’en issue, and it is very effective at capturing what makes this title entertaining.  John Arcudi and James Harren are really just doing their own thing with this comic, and it feels like they are not pandering to any type of audience with it at all.  If it sounds interesting, this is a good issue to pick up.

Stumptown #8 – This latest arc of Greg Rucka’s excellent Portland-based PI series has been focused on two plotlines: a visit from Dex’s sister, and her latest job, protecting some shipments of very high-end coffee beans from some interested parties.  Now, both threads are combining, as the Barista Mafia kidnap Fuji.  Rucka’s clearly having some fun with this series, and Justin Greenwood is somehow ably managing both this series and The Fuse.

They’re Not Like Us #9We were given pretty big hints last month that Syd and her friends are not the only people with abilities crawling around the Bay Area, and in this issue, when the group goes out for a night of dancing, they pretty quickly come across some other people like them, yet a little better organized and in control of their abilities.  I’ve been really enjoying the vibe of this hipster take on the X-Men, and am curious to see where Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane are taking things next.

We Are Robin #5 – I wanted to give this title a chance, because I really like the concept behind it, but I think that I’m done here.  There hasn’t been enough characterization, and Lee Bermejo’s plotting of the book hasn’t been clear enough for me.  I feel like more should have happened by now, and I don’t find myself caring about any of these characters at this point.  The knowledge that this is going to be part of a crossover with other books I don’t read soon makes me even less interested in sticking with the title, and so I’m out.

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

Art Ops #1

Batman and Robin Eternal #4

Chewbacca #2

Crossed Badlands #88

Mantle Vol 1 TP

Mercury Heat #5

New Avengers #2

Robin Son of Batman #5

Spider-Man 2099 #2

Stringers #3

Vertigo Quarterly SFX #3

Where Monsters Dwell #5

Wilds End: Enemy Within #2

Bargain Comics:

A-Force #3I really don’t have anything to say about this issue.  There’s nothing wrong with this series, but there’s also not really anything special about it either.  I think the relaunched, post-Secret Wars series is going to have some trouble keeping readers unless it finds some way to differentiate itself from everything else on the stands.

Convergence: Detective Comics #1&2 – If you had Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz working together, what would you have them do?  If you’re DC, you would apparently have them draw a story featuring the Earth 2 Huntress and adult Robin (in a hybrid Robin/Batman outfit) fighting the Superman from Mark Millar’s Red Son story.  There are some cool visuals, but Len Wein’s script did nothing for me.  Huntress is a cool character, almost all of the time, but classic Earth-2 Dick Grayson, in such a ridiculous outfit?  Naw.

Kick Drum Comix #1&2 – I don’t know how it is that I’ve never read these two comics by Jim Mahfood before.  That’s the thing with the comics industry – there is just so much product, that you invariably miss something good.  This is an excellent anthology that holds four Mahfood stories about music, youth, skating, and being irreverent.  As with all of Mahfood’s work, they’re excellent.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool – This was fun, but was ultimately forgettable.  Hawkeye turns away someone looking for help, and that guy is immediately killed on his doorstep.  As it turns out, he had information as to the identities of a number of SHIELD agents, and the Black Cat wanted that information from him.  This leads to a team-up with Deadpool and Kate Bishop, and a lot of hijinks.  Fun stuff, but this could have just as easily been an arc in Deadpool’s series.  Also, I’m tired of seeing Hawkeye portrayed as straight comic relief.

Richard Stark’s Parker Book Four: Slayground

Written by Donald Westlake
Adapted by Darwyn Cooke

The latest of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books,Slayground, is immediately gripping, but is also the slightest entry in the series so far.Parker, the master criminal, has participated in the heist of an armoured car in Buffalo in winter, but things went bad when his driver ended up flipping their getaway car.  Hurt, Parker runs with the loot, and takes shelter in Fun Island, an amusement park that has been closed for the winter.

He hasn’t gotten into the place unobserved though, as a pair of crooked cops and their criminal accomplices see him get into grounds of the park, and more importantly, see him with a large bag of cash.  Once they learn about the heist, they decide to go in to Funland and help themselves to Parker’s score.

Parker has some time to prepare for them though, and we sit back and watch him go about his business.

This set-up gives Cooke a lot of opportunity to do some cool things with the visuals in this book.  There is a fold-out map of Funland, and Cooke uses a number of interesting layouts, as Parker runs around setting up traps.

Cooke’s retro-stylings always make his Parker books a treat.  We really don’t know Parker as a character (and I have no reason to believe you learn more about him from reading Westlake’s original novels), but he works well as a cipher in these kinds of situations.

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