The Weekly Round-Up #316 With Island #5, Chew #53, Bloodshot Reborn #9, Star Wars: Darth Vader #14 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Island #5One of the best Christmas presents I got this year was a new issue of Island, the incredible anthology being put out by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios.  This issue is slimmer than the previous ones, and is stapled instead of square-bound, but is still a terrific collection of comics work.  For the first time, everything included here is a continuation of serialised stories from previous volumes.  

  • In Ancestor, by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward, we learn a little more about the reclusive rich dude who is holding a party in his mansion that does not allow people to connect to the Internet (in this near-future, everyone has programs installed in their heads to allow them constant connection to social media).  This is a cool story, which takes a very dark turn when the rich guy starts to interview all of his guests.  
  • Farel Dalrymple gives us another chapter of his new Pop Gun War story, this time showing us a private investigator who goes blind when breaking into a decrepit house looking for some missing kids.  As usual, this is a very surrealistic comic, that looks terrific.  
  • The best part of this issue was the second chapter of Simon Roy’s incredible Habitat.  This story takes place on a gigantic spaceship, where various factions have developed their own civilizations, all vaguely based around ancient Aztec or Mayan principles and fashion sense.  Cho, a young soldier, is on the run from his fellow Habsec after 3D printing a forbidden weapon, and in this chapter, he falls in with some engineers.  Roy never really explains this world that he’s created, but it all feels very natural and wonderful at the same time.  Roy is a major talent, who should be better recognized as such.

Quick Takes:

Astonishing Ant-Man #3Nick Spencer is making Ant-Man a really fun book.  This issue has him teaming up with Captain America (who Spencer also writes – see below) to deal with the hijacking of a SHIELD vessel, and also shows the escalation in the technology wars, as the Hench app gets some competition.  This is always a good read, and I like how we are still nowhere close to finding out why Scott is in jail at the beginning or end of each issue.

Blood Feud #3 – This was another exciting issue in Cullen Bunn and Drew Moss’s Southern vampire story.  The group of friends are stuck in a house with an angry vampire who has control over all of the spiders in the district (and that’s a lot).  There’s nothing particularly new about this title, but it’s a fun read, and Moss’s art is very nice.  It satisfies my random horror cravings nicely.

Bloodshot Reborn #9 – Jeff Lemire wraps up the first long arc by having Ray finally confront the other person who has his missing nanites, and make a decision about how he’s going to live the rest of his life.  Lemire’s spent too much time building up Agent Festival to get rid of her now, so I hope she’ll follow Ray into his future exploits.  Lemire’s done a great job of taking a character who is almost impossible to care about, and make him interesting again.  Butch Guice gets a lot of credit for that, as his work on this comic has been wonderful.  

Captain America: Sam Wilson #4I continue to be pretty impressed with this relaunch.  Nick Spencer is chasing a more old school approach to storytelling, packing more story into each issue, and referencing the character’s long past much more than most writers do these days.  Sam is still in his wolf-form, but it’s fading, as he realises that Serpent Solutions, the newest version of the Serpent Society are sinking their fangs into Wall Street using quasi-legal methods.  I loved the old Serpent Society issues of Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America (soon to be featured in my retro-review column), and was happy to see the return of Diamondback this issue.  I was also pretty pleased with artist Paul Renaud’s work; I like Daniel Acuña, who drew the first three issues of this comic, but am not sure he’s the best artist for Spencer’s story.

Chew #53 – Tony and Savoy have a nice long argument in this issue, which somehow involves them returning to dinosaur times and investigating the path that evolution may have taken were it not for the interference of that meteor that wiped out dinosaur life.  As this book moves towards its conclusion in #60, I feel like John Layman is tossing some very strange elements into it, but it’s still incredibly enjoyable, so it’s all good.

Daredevil #2I think this is becoming one of my favourite relaunches of the All-New, All-Different season.  Charles Soule has a very good take on Matt Murdock and DD, with his focus on working at the DA’s office and proactively pursue crime in both of his identities.  I like the new character, Blindspot, and the way in which he is giving voice to undocumented migrants in the US.  I’m also very interested in Tenfingers, the new adversary, and in learning more about his connection to a certain group of ninjas.  The best thing about this book by far is Ron Garney’s art, which, when paired with the minimalist colouring of Matt Milla, looks like nothing else on the stands right now.  This is a very strong book.

Darth Vader #14 – Vader Down continues with the Dark Lord encountering Princess Leia on the planet, while a bounty hunter gets involved in the hunt for Luke.  I was recently flipping through some older Salvador Larocca artwork, and I have to say that he’s really improved in terms of his storytelling.  This book looks terrific, and I’m really enjoying this whole storyline.  I have no idea what the cover, which is a nice piece by Mark Brooks, has to do with this story though.

Deadly Class #17I’ve been eagerly anticipating this new arc while this title has been on hiatus.  It’s final exam time at the underground school for assassins, and that means that a number of scholarship students have been marked for death.  It all hits the fan as Marcus and Petra work to get out of the school without being killed.  Wes Craig lays on the mayhem through his art, and makes this a very exciting start to the arc.  I couldn’t help but think of the paintball episode of Community while I read this, which made me laugh, because tonally this is a very dark comic.  Deadly Class is easily the best thing that Rick Remender has ever written, and I love it.

Extraordinary X-Men #4 – I have not been too impressed with this title since it began, but I do believe that this is the best issue of the series that we have seen so far.  Sadly, it’s still pretty mediocre.  The team manages to magically fix their demon problem in Limbo, and then the main squad goes looking for Colossus, Magik, and Nightcrawler, who are captives of Mr. Sinister.  There’s some pretty standard stuff going on, made a little confusing by Humberto Ramos’s cluttered artwork, and then a last page revelation that means we might be getting closer to some explanation as to when all this Terrigen Mist stuff started happening.  I hope this book is on the road to recovery, as it’s the only X-Men comic I’m buying right now (Mark Bagley and Greg Land disqualifying the other two titles from being things I want to read), and without a big improvement, I’m planning on dropping it too.

Gotham by Midnight #12I’m sad to see this series go.  Ray Fawkes has explored the darker side of Gotham, and has built up a few new and interesting characters, as well as cement the New 52 take on Jim Corrigan and the Spectre.  This is a satisfying conclusion, although it does leave me wondering where these characters are headed next.  Juan Ferreyra proves once again that he’s one of the best artists in the business, and I’m looking forward to seeing his work on New Suicide Squad in the new year.

Hellbreak #9 – We get to know another member of the crew a little better as our heroes are captured in a level of Hell that has patterned itself on a psychiatric hospital that makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look pretty relaxing and welcoming.  I like this title, although every time I read it, I end up wishing that Cullen Bunn would finish The Sixth Gun.  It’s been too long.

Invisible Republic #8 – Invisible Republic continues to be one of my favourite political science fiction stories of all time.  In the present-day story (which, of course, is in the future), Maia is trying to retrieve her journals from Babb and his journalist friend, and she shows them where she spent most of her cousin’s rule as a way of getting them to understand her.  In the flashbacks, we see how Maia’s cousin began to consolidate his power over the resistance group whose actions eventually left him in charge.  This is a very intelligent comic, and I love watching this story unfold.  Writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have put so much thought into every detail that even the simplest scenes carry added weight and significance.  This is great stuff.

Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 #2Mark Millar has started moving forward in time with this prequel series, and is now beginning to link up some of the various plotlines he introduced in the first volume.  The retired Skyfox has been hanging out with the Beat Poets (Kerouac, Burroughs, and Corso all make appearances) and is beginning to be concerned with the LA riots in the late 60s, while the rest of the team carries on being all noble.  I like that Millar is revisiting this time period, seeing as it portrays issues that America has done little to fix.  I’ve liked this title since it began, but as it becomes more politically conscious, I’m more interested.

Nameless #6 – Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s very late series comes to its close, and while it looks great, I can’t say I much care for the story anymore.  Morrison often gets pretty weird towards the end of a story, but when that story is months late and hinges on referring to things from the beginning of the book, I can’t always remember or follow.  I mean, nobody does obscure weirdness as well as him, but sometimes it feels old.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #14 – Things get a little wide-screen this month, as Paul Azaceta and Bettie Breitweiser give us a lot of incredible full page and double-page images.  This title has really been heating up lately, and among a variety of suspenseful and cool things in this issue, we get to see the Reverend regain his inner strength, in a very cool scene.  This is a very good series, and is about to get a lot of press when the TV show starts.

Rai #12A lot happens in this issue as Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain finish off another arc (and possibly the series?  Apparently it’s coming back in 2016 as 4001 AD, which kind of makes sense since Rai has basically been a supporting character in this arc).  Anyway, if you’ve been reading this from the beginning, there’s a lot of payoff this month.  If you haven’t, it would make no sense.

Saga #32 – Last month we checked in on Hazel; this month it’s Alana and Marko’s turn, as we watch them work to track down their missing daughter.  As always, Brian K. Vaughan puts a lot of the emphasis on their relationship, and that is the strength of this book.  Well, that and Fiona Staple’s beautiful art.  Saga is great.

Spider-Woman #2 – I really need someone to explain this whole Alpha Flight thing to me.  It seems to be so much more than SWORD in terms of it being an organization involved with interacting with other alien civilizations, but I don’t know why it’s linked to the Canadian government (or at least the regular Alpha Flight team, who have a very brief cameo here), or why Captain Marvel is in charge.  Anyway, whatever it is, its hospital has been invaded by Skrulls, and now Jessica has to go all Die Hard with a group of pregnant aliens in order to protect her unborn baby.  It’s a fun, entertaining issue, but the fact that one of the pregnant women is Strontian (from Gladiator’s world) means that she shouldn’t have to be doing anything at all.  I love Javier Rodriguez’s art on this book.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #5

Batman and Robin Eternal #12

Deadpool #4

Death Defying Dr. Mirage: Second Lives #1

New Avengers #4

Robin Son of Batman #7

String Divers #5

Wilds End Enemy Within #4

Bargain Comics:

All-New Inhumans #1&2This book has a lot of potential, but I’m not quite sure it’s there yet.  The premise is that Crystal is running a small squad of Inhumans, seeking out NuHumans (I hate that term) as they go through Terrigenesis, while also researching some weird metal spikes that have shown up all over the planet and are somehow connected to the Inhumans.  The supporting characters are not really introduced, so if you haven’t been reading the other Inhuman books, you’d probably be lost.  On the plus side, the art (by Stefano Caselli, primarily) is very nice, and the group gets into it with a Kim Jong-Un style dictator.  

Amazing Spider-Man #1&2 – As we’ve come to expect, Dan Slott does a fine job of bringing us to a new status quo for Peter Parker – he’s embraced his role at Parker Industries, but is working to keep prices for his life-changing technology down, and likes to brag about how he doesn’t get paid a whole lot.  I like the fact that he has Hobie Brown, the Prowler, on hand as his security chief, and masquerading as Spider-Man so that Peter can be his own bodyguard.  This is a strong start to a series that I hope will last more than a year before it gets upended and started again.

Chewbacca #1&2 – This is the first Star Wars series that I didn’t buy immediately, mostly because I figured that the whole thing would be filled with people not knowing what the Wookie is saying, and trying to interpret his intentions.  That’s just what Gerry Duggan has given us – it’s cute, but it gets a little tiring.  Were it not for Phil Noto’s amazing art, I probably wouldn’t come back to see how this all ends.

Deadpool #41-44 I still think that I did the right thing by dropping this title when Deadpool got married, but I enjoy looking in on this book from time to time.  Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn really did some good work developing this character, at least between crossovers and tie-ins, and I like the way they moved him into the type of anti-hero who is willing to help someone like Omega Red.  Also, they have a good handle on the Trapster, a character who is terribly underutilized.  

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 – Brian Michael Bendis uses most of this issue to set up the new status quo for the Guardians.  We know that Ben Grimm and Kitty Pryde are with them now, and that Peter Quill is busy being the King of Spartax.  Groot still has his new post-Black Mirror appearance, but Kitty’s cosmic powers appear to be gone.  At this point, yet another relaunch feels completely unnecessary, but that’s what Marvel does.  The quality of this book hasn’t changed, nor has the creative team, just the actual team lineup.

SHIELD #8-11 – I have no idea what this series is for, except to give Mark Waid the chance to play around with characters like Dominic Fortune and Howard the Duck, whether or not that captures the general feeling of the TV show this is supposed to be supporting.  The done-in-one format is something that Waid excels at, and he uses an interesting collection of guest artists, but there’s nothing memorable going on here.  Of course, this title has already been canceled and is being relaunched with a more focused approach, so I guess my thoughts don’t matter at all.

Silk #1&2I kind of ignored this series despite liking the character of Silk in Amazing Spider-Man.  I realize now that overlooking this was a mistake, as this is a very good comic.  Cindy is trying to get her life together after a decade of self-imposed exile, but she is completely unable to track down her family.  Robbie Thompson is doing good work with this character, and Stacey Lee’s art is great.  Her work is a lot like a cross between Becky Cloonan and more cartoony indie artists, and completely different from the tone that the covers give the book.  I think I’m going to be tracking down more issues of this now…

Uncanny Avengers #1&2 – I think I’d expected a lot less from this series, and so didn’t mind these first two issues.  I agree with people who have felt that Deadpool is given too much space in this comic, and I kind of wonder if and when we are going to get any explanation as to why Steve Rogers chose the lineup that he did – Johnny Storm, Brother Voodoo, and Quicksilver all feel a little out of place on this team, as does Synapse, who is just there and unexplained.  There’s potential in this comic, but I’m not sure I’d give it enough space to really get there.  This is going to be remaining a bargain bin purchase for me.

Uncanny Avengers Annual #1This is a very odd comic.  To begin with, it’s weird that Marvel is giving a title an annual two issues into a run, and even odder still that it would be written by a writer not attached to the parent company, with the express purpose of introducing a villain who is going to be appearing in another title.  That’s the deal here, as we see an old mission that combined the Invaders of the 40s with some various magic-based heroes.  Their job not complete, the surviving mages reunite and get help from Steve Rogers, Quicksilver, and Dr. Voodoo.  This comic did not leave me with confidence that James Robinson has his groove back…

Wolverines #14-20 – I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that these ended up being pretty terrible comics.  I was marginally interested after the Weapon X Programme miniseries, but then the beginning of this series wasn’t so good.  Then Fang showed up, and it became absolutely terrible.  I guess it got a little better. The whole idea behind this series is that Mystique is manipulating everyone to get what she wants, and then at the last minute the plot swerves, and that should have been good, but there was just a little too much terrible before that to redeem it.  I guess, because this was written by the amazing Charles Soule and the often very good Ray Fawkes, I expected more.  There was some interesting art in here too, but it was very inconsistent.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Fairest In All The Land

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Chrissie Zullo, Karl Kerschl, Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon, Fiona Meng, Mark Buckingham, Phil Noto, Meghan Hetrick, Russ Braun, Tony Akins, Gene Ha, Tula Lotay, Marley Zarcone, Ming Doyle, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Nimit Malavia, Dean Ormston, Kurt Huggins, Adam Hughes, Al Davison, Shawn McManus, Inaki Miranda, and Kevin Maguire

I’d gotten pretty bored of Fables and its related properties, but with this hardcover, featuring work by a number of fantastic artists, but telling one complete story from beginning to end, my appreciation of Bill Willingham’s work with these characters was restored.Fairest: In All the Land is a terrific murder mystery that begins in the lost Business Office, and is narrated by the Magic Mirror.  Our narrator is also a participant in the story, as he realizes that a visitor has come into the office, a space that has been set dimensionally adrift, and has been cut off from the other Fables for a long time.  Shortly after this, beautiful Fables, starting with Rose Red, are being murdered.  A list of intended victims is found, and Cinderella is pressed into solving the murders.

Cindy’s skills lean more towards espionage than detective work, and so it takes her a while to figure things out.  The Mirror has an idea of what’s going on, but isn’t able to communicate with anyone, trapped as he is.

This story ranges across the history of Fabletown, and involves a number of supporting characters showing up for a bit to play their part.  I’m not sure that someone new to Fables would get a lot out of this, but for a long-time, lapsed, reader, it was a treat.

Willingham was assisted by a remarkable list of artists.  I’m not sure what I found more exciting – to see up and comers like Tula Lotay, Ming Doyle, and Marley Zarcone represented, or to see actual interiors by Adam Hughes.  There are a few artists here who are unfamiliar to me, which is also pretty exciting, as the art is consistently great throughout this book.

Having finished this, the only Fables left for me to read is the last volume; I’m going to have to get around to that some time soon.

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

There is often a paint-by-numbers quality to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics.  In recent years, he’s tried to stretch the character into new territory by killing him and dumping him in Hell, but the stories are much the same as they were before.  He’s also started exploring Hellboy’s earlier years a little more, and to me, that’s been a more interesting and successful endeavour.

The Midnight Circus is a one-off hardcover graphic novel that came out in 2013 and features art by the amazing Duncan Fegredo.  The story is pretty straight-forward – young Hellboy sneaks out of the BPRD offices one night to try smoking, and ends up visiting a strange circus.

Mignola does not push this into any new directions.  The person running the circus is a demon or something, and is interested in testing the lad, while the woman with him wants to try to kill Hellboy, fearing his prophesied future.

While the story is nothing special, the art is very nice.  Fegredo is always good, and colourist Dave Stewart really knows how to bring out his better qualities.  I like the way the colours help separate the circus-world scenes from the rest of the book.

This is a very quick read, but it’s still a decent comic.