The Weekly Round-Up #332 With No Mercy #9, The Autumnlands #10, Black Road #1, Star Wars: Darth Vader #19 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

No Mercy #9I really did not expect this issue of No Mercy.  This series has been following a group of American teenagers who have gone to the country of Mataguey, a Central American country, who were in a bus crash.  Since the first couple of issues, we’ve been following these scattered teens as they have run afoul of a drug cartel, recovered in a hospital, gone on a bender with some British tourists, or just dealt with their newfound temporary celebrity.  The series has frequently been surprising and unpredictable, and has always featured excellent writing by Alex De Campi and realistic, affecting art by the incredible Carla Speed McNeil.  One of the most interesting characters in the series so far has been Charlene, who we’ve come to learn is actually a trans boy with wealthy Christian parents and an abusive asshole for a brother.  Last issue, we learned that Charlene had actually been in Mataguey before.  This issue tells the story of that time, and it is very disturbing and sad.  The issue opens on Charlene’s “coming out”, in both the Southern sense of the phrase as well as the more modern one.  Her actions get her packed off to a new ‘school’ in the country, where teenage girls are rehabilitated through a harsh regimen of reporting on each other, being confined in early Guantanamo Bay style cages, and being degraded at every opportunity.  It’s a very dark issue, made all the more dark by De Campi’s inclusion of a long, yet partial, list of the names of teenagers who have died in residential treatment facilities.  This is one of the strongest single issues of a series I have read in a long time, and one that I hope leads to further discussion of conversion therapy and similar practices.  I highly recommend this title, and think it would make a good companion to Bitch Planet, although it is worlds apart in terms of storytelling styles.

Quick Takes:

All-New All-Different Avengers #8Increasingly, I think that the Standoff event was originally intended to only take place in Captain America’s solo title, and then someone at Marvel insisted that it expand to encompass a number of other books that hadn’t actually found their feet yet.  This issue is pretty much pointless, as the combined ANAD and Uncanny Avengers teams figure things out, and Deadpool talks to Kobik, who is portrayed as being about eight years older than she is in Cap’s own book.  I’ve yet to be impressed with this title, despite the fact that it is almost a personal Avengers dream team for me, and I’ve stopped preordering it.  I might pick up the next issue, which is debuting a new Wasp (because I have no idea what is wrong with the one we’ve already got), and give Mark Waid one more chance to interest me, but at the same time, I think I’m ready to be done with this (which means that for the first time in well over a decade, I will not be buying either an Avengers or X-Men title).

The Autumnlands #10 – Learoyd and Dusty make their way up the mountain that is a source of contagion and as they go, they find more and more mutated creatures, just as Dusty’s magical abilities become much stronger.  This issue and the last one have not done a whole lot to advance the larger plot of this series, except in terms of these two characters’ relationship with each other.  I am still enjoying this series, and am blown away by Benjamin Dewey’s artwork, but feel I liked this book better when it also showed more of the townsfolk.

Black Canary #10I feel like this arc, which focuses on a ninja death cult trying to learn the secrets of a special kung fu move developed by Dinah’s mother is very random, and a little confusing, but since the focus of this issue was on Dinah and Batgirl working together, I still enjoyed it a great deal.  Sandy Jarrell is very good at choreographing fight scenes as well.

Black Road #1 – I’m very pleased to see Brian Wood return to territory he explored in his excellent (and underappreciated) series Northlanders.  With frequent collaborator Garry Brown (see The Massive: Ninth Wave below), he has started a series about Magnus the Black, a ‘Viking’ who has been hired to accompany a Catholic Cardinal north along the Black Road, a very dangerous path.  Wood shows us the brutality with which Christians carried out their mission in Viking lands, and as always, does not shy away from the more grisly (and utterly hypocritical) parts of their approach.  I’m not sure if this is an ongoing series or not, but Wood has caught my attention with this one.

Carver: A Paris Story #3 – I liked the first two issues of Chris Hunt’s series, but found myself frustrated by the pacing of this one, which is basically just a large fight scene between Carver and some men in a bar in Paris.  The first two issues did a good job of establishing character, setting, and mood, but this one adds very little.  Since the issues come out months apart from one another, there needs to be more substance in each individual issue.

Darth Vader #19Vader’s time on the mining planet of Shu-Toran draws to a close, as he has to deal with the betrayal by Cylo’s twin lightsaber wielders, and put an end to the Baron’s uprising.  Triple Zero gets all the good moments in this issue, as the comic still lacks the wonderful Dr. Aphra to give it a more human face.  I’d say this arc has been my least favourite of the run so far, but imagine that Kieron Gillen has something cool cooked up for upcoming issues.

Deadly Class #20 – My god but this is a good comic.  On the run, Marcus, Petra, and Billy have a very interesting conversation, made more interesting by the fact that we know that Billy has betrayed his friends.  Viktor finds them, and we get a pretty crazy action sequence, and also find time to check in on most of the other main characters.  Rick Remender is packing so much goodness into each issue that it takes a good long time to read this book, and Wes Craig just keeps getting more and more amazing.  This is one of the top five books being published right now.

Drifter #10I’m pleased to see Drifter return from hiatus.  Ivan Brandon’s story in this science fiction series is not always the most linear or clear, but it’s always interesting.  The group that set off to explore the planet are caught in the aftermath of a large explosion that is blanketing the planet with ash, and causing the Wheelers, the indigenous race, to behave strangely.  I’m hoping this arc explores the Wheelers a little more, as I’m curious about them.  Nic Klein’s art is always incredible on this book.

Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 #5 – I like the way that Mark Millar is pulling together all the various story elements that have appeared in the two volumes of this series together as he moves towards his big conclusion next issue.  Skyfox is back with his former teammates, but when a secret is revealed, loyalties are tested once again.  I was excited to see that Ty Templeton drew half of this issue; he is a local comics legend, and I’ve been a fan since his days with the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League.  It’s great to see him on a book like this.

The Last Contract #4 – Ed Brisson’s story about a retired hitman dragged back into the life after his employment record is put in a position to become public knowledge ends very well with this issue.  Brisson is a terrific crime writer, and while I find his Image series The Violent stronger than this series, I still liked this title a lot, and not just before it’s set all around my home town.

Letter 44 #24 – This issue felt a little rushed, pace-wise, as President Blades went about trying to figure out who he should save from the Earth’s destruction, Drum begins to narrate his story, and Charlotte makes a desperate attempt to recover her baby from the alien Builders.  This continues to be one of my favourite series, as Charles Soule packs great science fiction with believable realpolitik.

The Massive: Ninth Wave #5Brian Wood has his environmental activists wade into the dialogue around migrants with this issue, as Ninth Wave works in secret to transport a group of refugees out of a dangerous situation.  What makes this issue interesting is the debate around whether or not humanitarian actions are part of their environmental purview.  Of course, there’s a bit of a twist in things here, as Wood and artist Garry Brown continue to flesh out the three main characters of this title.  I’ve been like the Ninth Wave miniseries, although it really just makes me wish that The Massive, the original title featuring these characters, had run longer and didn’t move into the magical realism that transformed it’s last bunch of issues so soon.

Moon Knight #1 – I wasn’t sure that it was time to reboot Moon Knight yet again, especially since Warren Ellis’s take on the character still feels very fresh, but this is Marvel, so a reboot we get.  This time around, Jeff Lemire places Marc Spector in a mental hospital straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, complete with sadistic guards and a love for electroconvulsive therapy as a means of controlling patients’ behaviour.  There are familiar people in this asylum, and we are made to wonder if Spector has always been insane.  It’s an interesting start, but I often feel that portrayals of Moon Knight in the modern era are a little regressive when it comes to mental health, and don’t add a whole lot to the character.  I like Greg Smallwood’s art here, especially his layouts, and am interested enough to see where this first arc takes us.

Starve #8Chef Gavin has set up his community restaurant, and because of this, has suffered a beating at the hands of his TV network.  Now, he’s ready to take the fight back to them, but he’s not aware of how they’ve manipulated and set up his daughter.  The drama behind this series is excellent, but I find it’s the stuff about the politics of food and discussions of building struggling communities that has me most excited about this series (well, that and Danijel Zezelj’s artwork).  This is an exciting week, because it has three Brian Wood comics in it, and this one is far more revolutionary than even his Massive series, which is about eco-crusaders.  Great stuff.

Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1 – It’s been a while since I’ve seen much of Tony Harris’s art, and I really like what he’s doing with his style.  With this book we get a story about how the most annoying droid in the Star Wars universe got a red arm, and James Robinson sticks close to the kind of story we’d expect to see in an episode of Clone Wars.  3PO and some other Resistance droids, along with a First Order droid captive, are the only survivors of a crash onto a typically hostile planet.  Robinson does nothing particularly interesting here, but Harris really saves the day with his artwork.  I’m glad that this is a one-off, because there’s no way I’d come back for a second issue, no matter how pretty.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6Gilad has been hunting the men that stole his infant son in Ancient Mesopotamia, and has arrived at their city.  This is a very bloody issue, as it doesn’t look like anything will stop him.  Robert Venditti introduces a new immortal (of a nature) character into the Valiant mythos, and as this storyline has been named “Prelude to Labyrinth”, I assume we are going to be seeing this character again in the next issue, but in modern times.

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

A & A #2

A-Force #4

Agents of SHIELD #4

All-New Inhumans #6

All-New X-Men #8

Amazing Spider-Man #10

Gotham Academy #17

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Harrow County Vol. 2

House of Penance #1

Mercury Heat #9

Mockingbird #2

Pretty Deadly #9

Silver Surfer #3

Stringers TP

Bargain Comics:

Astro City (Vol. 3) #1-6When Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson revived their decades-long series at Vertigo a couple of years ago, I decided to pass on it, mostly because of the $4 price tag, and a belief that the title wouldn’t last long before falling victim to the types of delays that have long plagued this book.  Well, the series is into the thirties, and I’ve been proven wrong, and am now looking for cheap back issues or discounted trades in an effort to catch up.  These first six issues are interesting, because they focus on non-costumed folk that live in Astro City, and whose lives intersect in some way with the weirdness inherent in that place.  Most issues are done-in-one, which is always nice to see, but Busiek is laying the groundwork for a much larger story.  When I’ve recently read the earlier volume of this series, it felt like stepping back into time a bit; strangely, even these new issues carry a much older feeling.  I think that’s why the one character who keeps breaking the fourth wall (and reminding me a little of Morrison’s Multiversity) feels so out of place.

Grimjack: Killer Instinct #1-6 – Despite being a lifelong fan of both John Ostrander and Tim Truman, I’ve never read any of their Grimjack comics.  I came across this set from 2005 for only $5 and figured I’d give it a chance.  To be very honest, I found the first four issues to be almost unreadable, in that I didn’t understand who the character was, and couldn’t keep up the with the pace or story, which was introducing more random elements than a Michael Bay movie.  I’m going to stick with their other work, I think…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Honour Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street

Written by Guy Davis and Gary Reed
Art by Guy Davis

Between 1989 and 1991, Caliber Press published Guy Davis’s series Baker Street.  At that time, I was just beginning to experiment with independent comics, and remember reading an article about this book in Comic Scene (please don’t ask), but never picked up an issue or gave it a try.  Later, Davis began working onSandman Mystery Theatre, and I became a fan of his scratchy art and portrayals of women who looked more like real women than what I found in most comics.I recently came across Honour Among Punks, the ibooks collection of the original series, and knew it was time to read it.

Baker Street is a series about punks, mysteries, and relationships.  Davis and his co-writer Gary Reed transposed Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into the punk underground of an alternate history Britain.  Our point of view character is Susan, an American studying medicine in London.  She answers an ad for a cleaning woman that included room and board, and meets Sharon Ford, a former police detective who now lives the punk life, and her close friend Sam, who is a ball of punk rage.

As the series progresses, the women get involved in two separate cases that test their friendships and sense of self.  Davis puts together a complicated world of rival gangs, jewel thieves, transvestites, and a serial killer targeting men in the area around the Baskervilles, a rundown theatre that is the heart of the community.

Much of the storytelling here is rough, but Davis’s art shows serious growth from the more cartoonish first pages to the scratchy glory of the last storyline.

Sharon is a truly memorable character; devoted to her notions of deduction, invested in protecting her community, but completely unaware of the needs of the people around her.  This is a book worth reading, because of her.