The Weekly Round-Up #318 With Doctor Strange #4, Obi-Wan and Anakin #1, The Ultimates #3, X-O Manowar #43 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Bitch Planet #6It’s a little crazy to realize that we are only six issues into this series.  The book comes out very slowly, but I feel like it has had an effect on the comics market and headspace that is much larger than its output.  This issue focuses on Meiko, one of the women on the titular penitentiary planet.  We learn about her childhood, her family’s way of showing resistance to the patriarchy that regulates women severely, and why she ended up in prison.  It’s a very good comic, and continues to be the best thing that Kelly Sue DeConnick has ever written (I’ve read most of her comics, so I feel like I can say this).  Taki Soma drew this issue, and it is all very good.  As always, the columns and letters pages are as entertaining (and probably much more educational) than the story.  I love the idea that this book is bringing academic feminist theory and a platform for those ideas to be discussed into even the most mainstream of comic book stores.  This is a hugely important comic that also happens to be very, very good.

Quick Takes:

Black Science #19Rick Remender continues his examination of Grant McKay’s interior life, as he prepares him to become the hero we have expected him to be.  This is a very well-written comic, which shows a lot of insight for a book that started out as a science fiction chase book.  Remender frequently surprises, and artist Matteo Scalera is always exciting.

Dark Corridor #6 – I’ve been enjoying Rich Tommaso’s work on this title, but was a little disappointed by this “season’s” conclusion, mostly because it didn’t really resolve much, and felt a little rushed.  In fact, I’d say that pacing was the biggest weakness of this series, although I am curious enough to probably pick up the next issue when the next “season” starts.

Doctor Strange #4 – Jason Aaron spends a fair amount of time retconning some new limitations into Stephen Strange’s digestive tract, and that’s a little odd to me.  Meanwhile, the things that are destroying magic throughout the multiverse are moving on Earth, and this is causing all sorts of problems for Stephen and his library.  This title is a delight, but this is the darkest issue we’ve seen so far.  I like where this book is going, but am curious to know if this weird magic stuff (which I think is also affecting Scarlet Witch in her book) is going to happen throughout the ANAD Marvel universe.  For example, this issue shows the Temple of Watoomb devoid of magic, yet the Wand of Watoomb is (I believe) being used in Invincible Iron Man right now.  Maybe it’s just because I’m rereading a lot of Marvel’s 80s books right now, but I would like to see some more coordination between titles.

Elephantmen #68 – Richard Starkings has moved the action in this book to a new level lately, and in this issue, he really shows just why everyone thinks Obadiah Horn is such a badass.  The last few pages of this issue are excellent.  Also, it’s always good to be reminded of just how versatile and impressive artist Axel Medellin is.

The Fade Out #12I’m always sad to see the end of a series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  I’m still a little surprised to learn that this one has ended so soon, but I have really enjoyed the tighter, more focused writing that has come with the team putting out a much shorter storyline.  This series has dealt with Hollywood during the anti-Communist hysteria of the post-war period, and this final issue wraps things up very well.  We finally learn all of the secrets behind the murder that happened in the first issue (hypothetically, at least), and see just how far Charlie is willing to take things.  As always, Phillips and colourist Bettie Breitweiser are incredible.  I’m going to miss this title, and miss a regular Brubaker/Phillips fix.  I look forward to learning the details of their next series.

Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire #1 – The first four issue miniseries, Four Eyes, ran across three years, and that slow pace really cost it a lot of momentum.  It was a very good comic about a young Italian boy living in Chicago during the Great Depression, who lost his father and had to try to help his mother stay afloat.  His father was involved in the secretive and illegal dragon fighting circuit, and over the course of the series the boy, Enrico, rescued a runt dragon, named Four Eyes, planning to train him himself.  This new series picks up where that one left off, and has Enrico learning the harsher realities of training animals to fight.  Joe Kelly writes this book with sensitivity, but the best reason to buy this comic is the art by Max Fiumara.  His work is a little more expansive than the brilliant work he’s been doing on Abe Sapien, and he keeps it coloured in monochromatic cool tones.  On a number of pages, especially at the beginning, he reminds me of Tim Sale, which is interesting.  I hope that it doesn’t take another three years to get to the end of this story…

Invincible Iron Man #5 – I guess the Madame Masque plotline has come to an end, although with a typical Brian Michael Bendis story, it can be hard to tell.  I’m not sure how I feel about Mary Jane Watson basically taking the place of Pepper Potts in this series.  In fact, where is Pepper?  I don’t understand how Tony in this comic seems to be his usual rich self, but in his appearances in ANAD Avengers, it’s been established that he’s basically broke.  I know Bendis doesn’t do continuity, or play well with others, but I wonder if there have been discussions about this at Marvel.

The Last Contract #1I’m not sure why I didn’t automatically preorder this new series, since it’s being written by Ed Brisson, and the guy is an incredible writer.  This first issue introduces us to an old man who we learn was once a contract killer.  Two guys come to kill him, but he turns the tables on them, and learns that there is somebody with records of all of his jobs, and whoever this person is, he or she wants him dead.  In some ways this reminded me of the recent Icon series Men of Wrath.  I enjoyed Lisandro Esterren’s art, which reminds me a little of RM Guerra in places, and I especially liked seeing my hometown portrayed in such a gritty light.  I’ll definitely be buying the rest of this series.

Letter 44 #22 – I’ve been writing about how good this series is since it began, but it continually manages to surprise and impress me.  This is a huge issue, as a character we thought lost has shown up on the White House lawn, looking to speak to President Blades, just as his former crewmates on the Clarke are having to face the consequences of Gomez’s actions which defied the wishes of the Builders.  Two events take place in this issue that change the entire status quo of this series, and prove once again why Charles Soule is one of the best writers working in comics today.  I can’t stress enough how much I love this comic, which is one of the most intelligent and well-realized on the stands.

Midnighter #8 – I don’t understand DC’s sense of marketing sometimes.  This issue of Midnighter features the New 52 debut of B’Wana Beast, and unlike many New 52 character tweaks, this one improves on the classic, racially insensitive character one thousand percent.  Steve Orlando has made this comic a real treat each month, and this issue is no exception.  I feel like the upcoming Suicide Squad appearance is a cynical attempt to raise sales and attract new readers, and I for one really hope it works, because I really want this book to have a long life.  And I’d love to see Dominic Mndawe (who is not actually called the B’Wana Beast anywhere in this comic) return again soon.

Obi-Wan and Anakin #1I had some trepidation going into this comic.  I’ve liked the fact that all of the Marvel Star Wars books have stayed in the timeline set up by the original movies.  This is the first that explores the prequel era, with a story set between Episodes I and II.  I pretty much hated Anakin Skywalker in those films (and never even really warmed up to him in Clone Wars, although he was much better portrayed there than anywhere else), but this is a comic written by Charles Soule, who has been blowing my mind with Letter 44 (see above) and She-Hulk, and who is slowly getting me to like the Inhumans.  The story has the young master and padawan combination travelling to some distant planet no one’s gone to in a long time, and discovering that there is some kind of fighting going on there between different groups of steampunks in zeppelins.  I really was not too impressed with what I read here.  Sure, Marco Checchetto’s art is pretty, but Soule didn’t do anything to establish my interest in these characters, or their mission.  I’ve basically preordered the whole series, so I’ll be sticking with it; my only hope is that things improve quickly.  I wonder if Marvel has started rushing out new Star Wars books, without taking the time to properly vet the story.  This is more like something we would have gotten from Dark Horse – perfectly fine for the hardcore fan, but ultimately saying nothing new about the universe or the characters in it.

Paper Girls #4This continues to be an impressive series, as we learn a little more about the teenagers from the future who are trying to rescue our earnest paper girls, and we see how far the adults from the future will go to try to put a stop to them.  There’s a very cool sequence where we get to explore the life of a young teen in the 1980s, complete with a lot of video games, and generally, Cliff Chiang continues to surprise.  I’ve really missed his art since he left Wonder Woman, and am glad to be getting regular doses of it again.

Saints #4 – I really enjoyed the first three issues of this series, but found this one to be a little weak in comparison.  The concept behind this book is that the different Catholic saints have been reincarnated as superhumans, and our group of heroes are trying to figure out what they should do with their new abilities.  There is (of course) an organization that has been collecting these individuals, and now our side has a three-headed demon dog thing.  I think I need to read this book again – perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention to it.

Sheriff of Babylon #2 – The first issue of this series was interesting, but left me a little confused as to the shape of the series.  This issue helped solidify the plot and direction the series is going in, as an American MP partners with an Iraqi cop during the early days of the American occupation of the Green Zone, to return the body of a murdered Iraqi soldier to his family.  It is clear that something a lot more complicated is going on when the two arrive at the man’s family’s house.  Most interesting in this comic is the character of Saffiya, a politician who seems to be playing all the sides against one another.  Tom King is quickly becoming one of my favourite new comics writers (see Vision below), and I feel like this series gives us a good idea of how good he’ll be when he makes the jump to more creator-owned work.

Star Wars #14 The whole Vader Down situation ramps up even more when Vader’s rival shows up to take advantage of his precarious situation.  This event has been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends (somewhere a little further down my reading pile this week).

Darth Vader #15 – The end of Vader Down is satisfying, although it kind of leaves me wondering what will be next in the main Star Wars titles, since most of the plotlines of the series have been resolved now.  Salvador Larroca does a great job showing the different characters in this comic.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #11 – I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  I don’t like the Amy Racecar issues of Stray Bullets.  I think that David Lapham is brilliant, and that these issues, which feature strange versions of the familiar characters, much like a side story in a manga series, can offer some new insight into the regular characters, but they also delay the regular story, and that kind of annoys me.  Plus, I often find the tonal shift to be a little harsh.

Totally Awesome Hulk #2 – I liked the first issue of this series, and enjoyed this one, although I’m a little anxious to find out what happened to Bruce Banner and how Amadeus Cho became the new Hulk.  I’m also anxious to know how long Frank Cho is going to be on this book, as I think that including him limits Greg Pak to keep the book full of monsters and scantily-clad warrior women (to be clear – I’m not against things like this, but would like to see more focus on Amadeus).

The Ultimates #3I am really liking what Al Ewing is doing with this title.  He’s collected a very interesting cast of characters, including a few long-time favourites of mine (Black Panther and Spectrum) and is kind of logically attacking various issues around the Marvel Universe.  This time around, the team, having already fixed Galactus, is looking to fix time itself.  This book acknowledges all the ‘time is broken’ foolishness of Age of Ultron onwards, and has the team looking to rectify the situation (which, I don’t actually imagine Marvel will allow them to do, as it will screw with the All-New X-Men too much).  The comic book science logic feels solid, the characterizations are spot-on, Puck has a cameo (!!!), and Kenneth Rocafort’s art is very nice.  I’ve decided that this is the best Avengers comic that Marvel is putting out right now, and I hope it has a good, long life, unlike Ewing’s last two Avengers series.

The Vision #3 – This book is growing on me at a very quick pace.  This issue has the Vision family dealing with neighbourhood vandals, while Vision fixes his daughter after the Grim Reaper’s attack.  There’s some disturbing stuff involving Agatha Harkness, Everbloom flowers, and a dead cat that doesn’t seem to line up with her appearances in Scarlet Witch.  This book remains a solid and interesting read, as Tom King takes the main character into new territory.  I think Gabriel Hernandez Walta is the ideal artist for this book.

The Woods #19The Horde has brought monsters into the community, which are tearing through the students the Horde deemed undesirable, while only a few people are able to stand against them.  Since the beginning of this series, James Tynion IV has built up some very strong and believable characters, so when one of them is killed this issue, it has a strong effect on the reader.  I love this title, and always look forward to the next issue.

X-O Manowar #43 – Now that Aric and GATE know that Commander Trill is a threat, our hero is working with Ninjak to track down all the Vine plantings on Earth.  I’m not sure why there is so much animosity between the two heroes, considering that they were mostly shown to get along well in Unity, but this is, yet again, a very solid issue of a shockingly consistently good series.

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

A-Force #1

Amazing Spider-Man #6

Batman and Robin Eternal #14

Deadpool #5

Detective Comics #48

Guardians of Infinity #2

Howard the Duck #3

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #6

Nova #3

Spider-Man 2099 #5

This Damned Band #6

Uncanny X-Men #1

Weirdworld #2

Bargain Comics:

Deadpool #1&2I kind of like the idea of Deadpool being a leader of a team that includes characters like Solo, Foolkiller, and Stingray (should Paladin be in on this?), but at the same time, I think it’s pretty weird that Gerry Duggan is doing the same thing here that is happening in Nova right now with Sam’s father (see below).  I’d hope that someone at Marvel worked to make sure there wasn’t a lot of plot duplication going on…

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #1-4 – I think I probably would have gotten a lot more out of this had I reread the original Secret Wars miniseries beforehand (I haven’t read it in thirty years), but I thought it was cool the way that Cullen Bunn inserted Deadpool into that classic story.  Things got off to a slow start (and the Contest of Champions bonus round backup was kind of dumb), but by the end, I was pretty amused by this series.

Illuminati #1 – This comic is the product of a string of interesting decisions.  Someone thought that there would be a market for a comic based on The Hood’s desire to put together a ‘Secret Society of Super-Villains’ group, and name it The Illuminati, a name that Marvel fans associate with a secret cabal of heroes trying to save the world.  I like the way Titania is used as a POV character throughout this first issue, and I enjoyed Shawn Crystal’s art a lot, but I don’t see this as an ongoing comic.  I’m not making a comment about the marketplace not supporting books like this (which we know to be true); I’m more questioning whether or not this concept, with this lineup of characters, has more than eight issues in it.

Nova #1&2This series has undergone some big changes in this relaunch.  Sam’s dad is back (although there are some questions around that), and now the family seems to have money again.  As well, Sam has a completely different set of friends, and is suddenly a good student.  Really, this is not the same character from the last series, and that’s a little jarring.  It’s also strange to see Sam’s mother guilt-tripping him for going out with his friends on a Saturday, where before she was always shown as being less supportive of his superheroing.  I like the book, but have to accept that the character I liked is probably gone.

Silver Surfer #14 – I find it interesting that Dan Slott is using his Secret Wars tie-in issues to have the Surfer and Dawn recreate the entire universe.  There’s a lot of cosmic weirdness going on here, but it’s all good, mostly because of Michael Allred’s great art.

Spider-Man 2099 #1-3 – Peter David has taken this title to some pretty dark places, showing Miguel, who now works for Parker Industries, working to fix his future, although he doesn’t know how to do that.  When his girlfriend is killed, he goes a little nuts, looking for her killer.  I don’t know if I know this character well enough to get into his rage (I didn’t read the original series in the 90s, but I did read all of the last volume of this title, but Miguel hasn’t felt very well-developed to me yet).  I was a little disappointed in this.

Where Monsters Dwell #2 – Basically, Garth Ennis is in his humour mode, with this story of a WWI pilot and a strong independent woman trapped in a weird prehistoric world.  The dialogue is amusing, but it feels like Ennis is phoning this one in.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards

Written by Jim Ottaviani
Art by Big Time Attic (Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon)

I remember that this historical graphic novel was promoted in a Free Comic Book Day giveaway back when it was first published, and it caught my attention as entertaining and original, but I never got around to buying a copy until not that long ago.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology is a book that looks at the (un)professional rivalry between two giants of the field of Paleontology at the end of the nineteenth century.  Edward Drinker Cope is an obsessive collector of dinosaur fragments, constantly looking to expound on his theories (even to German-speaking fellow coach passengers) and promote his ideas, well beyond his meagre financial capabilities after losing most of his money in some bad mining investments.  Othniel Charles Marsh is a fatuous gasbag whose inheritance and social position has provided him great privilege in bending the ears of influential people in Washington DC.

To say that these two men hate each other is to minimize the extent of their feelings for one another.  Marsh plants fake fossils in the badlands in hopes of discrediting Cope, and has him removed from his lucrative position in the US Geological Survey.  Cope never misses a chance to put down Marsh, and carries around documents that disprove his rival’s theories that he has sewn into the front of his pants for safe keeping.  Along the way, we meet some of their other colleagues or acquaintances, including Charles R. Knight, the artist whose dinosaur paintings were responsible for constructing the public attitude towards dinosaurs to today.

Ottaviani does a great job of exploring these two eccentrics, and carefully documents the places in his story where fact is stranger than fiction.  I’m always attracted to well-sourced historical fiction, and so found the notes in the back almost as enjoyable as the story itself.

What really struck me was the casual, dismissive attitudes of both scientists towards their lives’ work.  They were more interested in mashing pieces together to form their preconceived idea of the larger puzzle, and were usually much more interested in showing up the other than conducting proper scholarship.  This is a book about ego more than anything else.

The Cannon brothers do fine work in this black and white comic.  I started to get a real feel for these characters based upon their appearances and facial expressions.

In all, this is a very enjoyable book.  It might be a little hard to track down, but it’s worth it, especially for anyone with an interest in the intersections of history, science, and paleontology.


by Joe Sacco

At this point in my life, after spending just about all of it reading comics, I’m always a little surprised when I realized what some of my gaps are.  For example, I’ve never read a complete Joe Sacco book before now.  Palestine collects his individual comic books from the mid-90s, recounting his visit to that unfortunate place.

I don’t know what kind of response this book got when it came out, but it clearly wasn’t strong or outraged enough.  In this book, Sacco walks around the towns and refugee camps of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, going into peoples’ homes, hearing their stories, and observing their living conditions.  He gives a very honest portrayal of Palestinian life as it was twenty years ago.

That things have only gotten worse in this occupied land is unbelievable to me.  I don’t want to get into my political thinking here, but as someone who likes to see himself as a humanist, this book made me angry and sad.  Knowing that, were Sacco to find these same people and talk to them again, their lives are not likely improved, is a tragedy.

I think the main reason why I never read a Sacco book is because his art kind of turns me off.  His people are strange looking, and their teeth disturb me.  That said, his draftsmanship is great, and his establishing shots, or his panoramas of Palestinian life, really impress.

It took me a little while to adjust to his use of cascading text boxes, and the overall wordiness of this book, but by the time I had read the first three issues collected here, I was hooked.  Sacco should be admired for the bravery and sensitivity he brought to this comic, and I liked the way he kept himself front and centre, providing us a perspective to react through.  This is a classic piece of graphic literature.

X-Men: No More HumansI’d passed on this original graphic novel when it first came out because it was pretty expensive, but I recently managed to find a pretty cheap copy.  I’ve always liked Mike Carey’s writing on the X-Men, but he was forced to try to put together a coherent story in the middle of Bendis’s run, when there are two separate and conflicting X-Men teams, the younger versions of the original X-Men running around, and also had to use the supposed future son of Mystique and Wolverine as his main villain.  It makes things kind of messy, and guarantees that someone reading this in a few years is going to find themselves hopelessly confused.  Anyway, it’s a decent enough read.  Raze has used some weird device to get rid of every human on the planet Earth, while also bringing every mutant from every alternate reality to the 616.  The problem is, his reasons for doing this involve him wanting to gather an army of bad mutants (although none of the evil ones on 616 show up, other than Mystique).  The X-Men respond to this as a major threat, but then never use anything beyond tiny squads to fight their battles, leaving a lot of major power on the sidelines.  By the time Dark Phoenix showed up, I was losing interest.  Salvador Larroca does good work here, but the colours are often a little too dark for the shinier paper.


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