The Weekly Round-Up #326 With Black Widow #1, The Pitiful Human Lizard #6, Omega Men #9, Star Wars: Darth Vader #17, The Walking Dead #152 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Black Widow #1I was wondering what kind of approach Mark Waid and Chris Samnee were going to take with this title.  Were they going to lighten Natasha up, like they did with Matt Murdock?  Were we going to get yet another story about Natasha striking items out of her moral ledger?  I still don’t know, as the talented creative pair decided the best way to start this series would be with the full issue equivalent of a pre-title opening scene of a James Bond movie.  Natasha is declared an enemy of SHIELD by Natasha Hill, and then spends the issue escaping from a Helicarrier, falling through the sky, and evading capture in the city.  She’s stolen something, but we don’t know what, we don’t know why, and we don’t know where she’s going.  And I love it.  Now, I don’t want every issue to be this lacking in text, but for a debut, this really worked, and got me excited.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha #1 – Taken for what it is, this is a decent comic.  Steve Rogers is contacted by Bucky Barnes, who has learned of the secrets of SHIELD’s Pleasant Hill program.  At the same time, Captain America learns of this from the Whisperer (whose real identity is actually very lame, but panders to the oldest of Marvel fans), and sets off to deal with the same situation, which might set up a big Avengers conflict, were any other Avengers actually in the book.  I really don’t know what the shape of this series is.  There are thirteen tie-in issues before the Omega issue concludes, but I have no way of knowing if they are all essential, if the story moves through them in a linear fashion from chapter to chapter, or if many of them are ‘red skies’ tie-ins.  Marvel has done a very poor job of marketing this event, and while I like some of the villains assembled by the end of the story, I’m not going to buy any tie-in title I’m not already buying, limiting my understanding of this storyline to whatever happens in ANAD Avengers and Captain America.  Since this is written by Nick Spencer, and so is Cap’s book, I’m hoping that’s all I’ll really need.  

Batgirl #49DC assembled an interesting assortment of artists to work on this issue (including Ming Doyle!), with the result that the book looks incredibly inconsistent throughout.  I’m not sure how DC is going to manage multiple bi-weekly series when they aren’t able to get monthly books out without chopping them up and sharing them between a variety of people.  Anyway, Barbara’s friends are working to figure out what’s going on with her memories, and that leads to some interesting situations.  This issue feels darker than this book usually is, but it works well.

Darth Vader #17 – I love that Kaare Andrews is doing the covers for this title now (even though Mark Brooks gets the credit on the inside) as he captures so much of what I love about Vader.  This issue continues the story set on a distant mining planet, and it’s interesting to see Vader in such a setting, especially since he still has to deal with the machinations of Cylo, his rival, and his creations.  This is a very good book.

Deadly Class #19 – Once again, the new issue of Deadly Class is terrific.  Marcus and two of his friends are on the run from their school, and Viktor, the large Soviet nemesis of Marcus has caught one of them alone.  We get a pretty exciting chase sequence, followed by some pretty insightful dialogue.  As is often the case with this series, someone is playing their own angle on things, and it looks like once again, things are going to be taking a bad turn for poor Marcus.

Exodus: The Life After #4So it seems that having Ernest Hemingway replace God (or whatever you want to call the big potato) is not a good idea.  At least Jude gets rescued, and Nettie and Essie reach some closure.  I really like this series, but this issue feels a little off in places.  

The Fuse #18 – Antony Johnston wraps up the epic Perihelion arc, which has had our two detective main characters run off their feet as the entire Fuse station celebrates its biggest annual event.  Johnston has fit so much stuff in this arc that it’s amazing he managed to wrap up every separate story thread in a satisfying way.  It looks like the next arc is going to really explore Dietrich’s character, and I’m looking forward to that, although I hope that doesn’t signify that the series has reached its halfway point or something like that.

Invincible Iron Man #7 – I’m not really sure how Marvel feels they can market this issue as being on “The Road to Civil War II”, unless that upcoming event is going to be about the great argument over who has cuter quips – Tony Stark or Mary Jane Watson.  Not much happens, as MJ shows up for her first day on the job, and as Rhodey is held prisoner by a new threat.  As usual with Brian Michael Bendis, there’s not really enough going on to make me happy.

Midnighter #10As we get closer to the end of this series, I start to feel more and more annoyed with DC for their general business strategy.  This has been a very good book, and now that Steve Orlando has added the Suicide Squad and Henry Bendix into the mix, it’s just getting better and better.  I’m hoping that Orlando and artist ACO land somewhere interesting in the Rebirth mix, because I would gladly support a title they work on together.

Old Man Logan #3 – I continued to be intrigued by this title.  This month, Logan ends up working with Kate Bishop to try to track down Mysterio, but they disagree over Logan’s true goals.  One thing that really bothers me about this issue is that Logan’s flashback to the future confirms that Quicksilver is going to continue to wear his god-awful VCR fast-forward styled costume for a long time.  Andrea Sorrentino’s art on this book is stunning, but even he can’t make that outfit look good.

The Omega Men #9 – Things are really moving in this title, as the Omega Men confront the Viceroy of The Citadel on neutral ground, and Kyle Rayner tries to draw attention to what the Citadel have done in the Vega System.  Tom King’s constructed this series in a very interesting way, and I intend to enjoy the last three issues a great deal.  I’m thankful that DC gave this series a reprieve, as it’s one of the best things they are publishing right now.

The Pitiful Human-Lizard #6It’s been a little while since I last read an issue of Human-Lizard, as I was waiting for Chapterhouse Comics to catch up to where creator Jason Loo had self-published his books.  We’ve reached that point, which means I get to read a lot of new adventures from this hometown hero.  In this issue, after helping his dad learn to use his phone, the H-L goes for a walk with his mom and ends up helping fight off an invasion of sea creatures determined to rescue their king from the new Ripley’s Aquarium.  Later, Lady Accident fights a goo creature in a mall.  I really enjoy this series, and Loo’s art, and probably would like it even if I didn’t recognize every location and reference to local discount stores.  Even without all the love that Loo shows for Toronto, this is a very good comic.

Prophet Earth War #2 – While the story in this issue is pretty odd, focusing on a new character in the already overly-sprawling Prophetverse, the art by Ron Ackin is much more standard than what we are used to seeing out of Brandon Graham’s Prophet.  I’ll admit to being a little lost as to what is happening in any given issue right now, and have no idea how Graham and collaborator Simon Roy are going to resolve this massive story with just four issues to go.  Unconventionally, I assume…

Revival #37Tim Seeley and Mike Norton do a couple of cool things with this series this month.  First, they keep showing us the life that many of the secondary characters wish they had, and then contrasting it with their reality.  It’s a good way of quickly showing us greater depth for these characters, while still advancing the plot.  Secondly, they have Martha singing lyrics to a Doomtree song (the sublime Beacon).  I’m a big fan of Doomtree, as is Martha, and since they are from Minneapolis, it makes sense that a college student in central Wisconsin would be aware of their work.  It adds a level of verisimilitude to the book, and it always gives me a thrill to see them get referenced in the comic.  As always, Revival is a terrific read.

Saints #6 – The pace of this title has really picked up, as our heroes are now setting up for a big confrontation with the religious organizations that have been working against them.  I liked the earlier issues in this series better, as it now feels like the creators are working on a truncated schedule are are trying to fit everything into the book in a hurry.

The Sheriff of Babylon #4 – Tom King’s excellent series about the Green Zone in Baghdad during the American occupation continues to impress.  This is a series that requires close reading, as the two central Iraqi characters face threats that may be related, and as the American character works to protect them, while understanding nothing of what’s going on.  This is a very intelligent series, with very nice art by Mitch Gerads.

Spider-Man #2For the most part, this is an excellent issue of Spider-Man, but I hate the fact that the move to the mainstream Marvel Universe has wiped away so much of Miles’s history.  It’s clear that the Ultimate Universe never existed anymore, or at least that Miles doesn’t remember it, and so he is going about establishing himself as a character here.  We see what is basically his first meeting with the Avengers, and that feels weird, seeing as he’s been a member of the ANAD version of the team for a few months now in their book.  Brian Michael Bendis does do a terrific job of addressing some of the racial stuff that comes with having a black Spider-Man who is determined to not be Black Spider-Man.  The scene with Miles and Ganke at the end of the issue is excellent, and makes me feel that I want to stick with this book, despite not liking the reboot nature of it.  Sara Pichelli also makes me want to stick around, of course.

Stumptown #9 – The Case of a Cup of Joe ends very well this month (finally – this book is seriously late) as Dex has to maneuver her way through a number of different peoples’ agendas as she tries to protect some very rare and expensive coffee.  Greg Rucka does a great job of sending up Portland coffee culture, witless baristas, and overly privileged tech billionaires in this issue, as well as helping Dex come to terms with her sister.  I love this title.

The Violent #3 I continue to be amazed by how hard this series rolls.  Ed Brisson and Adam Gorham go right for your heart again and again in this title.  Things are starting to look a little better for Mason – his wife has been found, and she’s okay.  What he doesn’t know is that the body of the man he killed has also been found, and his best friend and accomplice in that murder is having some serious doubts about whether or not they’ll be able to keep it quiet.  Brisson never shies away from having his characters make some hard choices, and that’s what makes this book so effective.  I cannot recommend this title enough.

The Walking Dead #152 – This is a much bigger issue than I expected, as the child of the man Rick killed creates some pretty major obstacles to peace in Alexandria, and as Eugene makes contact with someone over his ham radio.  The Walking Dead is always a great series.

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

Batman and Robin Eternal #22

Deadpool #8

Dreaming Eagles #3

Mercury Heat #8

Predator: Life and Death #1

Uncanny Avengers #6

Uncanny X-Men #4

Bargain Comics:

Astro City (Vol. 2) #10-13Continuing to chip away at Astro City, I really enjoyed these issues, which include a two-parter about Jack-in-the-Box, and a one-off about Looney Leo, the Astro City equivalent of Tawky Tawny.  I like watching Kurt Busiek continue to grow his city and its environment in this stage of the property, and continue to feel regret that I haven’t been reading this book all along.

The Empty #4-6 – Jimmie Robinson’s strange science fiction/fantasy epic ends very well.  I like Robinson’s work, but his next series, Power Lines, is going to the first that I’m going to buy off the stands.  This series definitely kept my interest though, as he gave us a strange world where people have evolved in odd ways, and where one region’s wealth comes at the expense of everywhere else.  It’s good stuff.

Strange Sports Stories #1-4 – Like most of the Vertigo Quarterly anthologies of the last few years, there’s very little here that impresses, aside from a cool Paul Pope short story.  I think it’s time to give up on stuff like this altogether.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

How Loathsome

Written by Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh
Art by Ted Naifeh
The comics shop that I’ve been buying from for close to twenty years is having to move by the end of 2016, since a developer has bought up two city blocks, and it looks like they are either going to be taking down the beautiful Victorian-era street that it operates out of, or the rent is going to be ridiculous.  Because of this, they’ve been blowing out backstock like mad, and I found this handsome hardcover in their discount annex for only a dollar.  Knowing nothing about it beyond the fact that it looks nice, I picked it up.

How Loathsome is a very good comic.  It was published in 2004 (presumably it was a four-issue miniseries first), and is set in San Francisco’s seedy underbelly.  The main character is Catherine Gore, a writer, who runs with a group of genderfluid drug users.

Each of the four chapters tell a complete story featuring Catherine and some of her circle, as they fall for someone new, party, use, and talk about it.  Nothing major ever happens, but when the book ended, I was wishing there were more stories about these characters.

On two occasions, we read stories of Catherine’s.  One features a monk who enters a suicide pact with his young lover, but then doesn’t follow through after the boy kills himself.  The other is a ghost story.  They stand out a little, and disrupt the story, but give more insight into Catherine’s character.

There is a definite early Vertigo feeling to this book, and Ted Naifeh’s art matches that aesthetic well too.  I’m pleased I picked this up, and would recommend it to people who enjoy Ross (now Sophie) Campbell’s Wet Moon.