The Weekly Round-Up #346 With Black Hammer #1, Batman #3, Prophet Earth War #5, Star Wars: Darth Vader #23, Star Wars #21 & More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Black Hammer #1Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston have released this new Dark Horse title without a whole lot of fanfare (and what pres there was came months ago, before this book’s release was delayed while Ormston recovered from an injury).  This series is about a group of superheroes, more or less analogues of an edgier Justice League, who have somehow found themselves trapped on a farm in a rural part of the country for ten years.  They’ve adjusted to this new life in a variety of ways, but it seems like only one of them has accepted their fate.  Lemire spends most of the issue introducing the characters, who appear to have to fit into their surroundings and hide their true natures, and that does not sit well with all of them.  Ormston’s art has always appealed to me – he works a darkness into his stuff that has always fit well when he’s worked on Vertigo series, and it seems to suit the mood of this book very well.  I’m interested in seeing where these two are taking this title.

Quick Takes:

Astonishing Ant-Man #10 – This is an exciting issue, as Cassie needs to rescue her dad from his rescue of her, as Nick Spencer brings a number of subplots together, and brings us to the point of the framing sequence he’s been using since this title relaunched.  I noticed that Ant-Man isn’t on the list of the next round of Marvel relaunches, which is a shame, but I can also tell that Spencer’s reaching the end of his story, and I’d rather see things close organically.  This is a very good series.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1DC was wise to keep the price of their Rebirth line at $3 a comic, as I wouldn’t have picked this up had it cost more.  Unlike the other Rebirth specials, which tell a done-in-one story that perhaps hints at the direction the main title is going to take, this one really is the first chapter of a longer story, setting up a reason for Batgirl and Black Canary to work together again (basically because Barbara wants to), and then bringing in the Huntress as a likely future team member, once they work through some mutual animosity.  My biggest problem with this comic was that I didn’t find it all that interesting.  The tension between Barbara and Dinah felt forced, and the way in which Helena has chosen to live her life after working at Spyral feels very tacked on and unnecessary, like the writers or editors are desperate to return to the early days of the first BoP series, before Gail Simone shepherded these women towards a strong and memorable bond; Barbara now lives in a clocktower again.  The writing is fine.  The art is fine (I’m not sure if Claire Roe is going to be the regular artist or not).  The problem is, I didn’t see a lot of reason to return to this comic, which is too bad, because I loved this book during Simone’s tenure.

Batman #3More and more, I miss the days when storylines unfolded over years in comics.  Steve Rogers reveals himself as a Hydra agent, and the very next issue, we get the backstory on that, and everything is explained away.  In Tom King’s Batman, the mystery of who and what Gotham and Gotham Girl are is introduced, and now, with issue three, we know three quarters of their story.  I’d rather wonder for more than a month and a half, really.  Anyway, that said, this is another decent and very workable issue.  I think I’d rather see a little more of Batman, to say nothing of Duke, who is supposed to be a main supporting player in this title, but doesn’t even show up in this issue.  Anyway, terrorists attack Gotham, Batman is in Tony Stark mode with the gadgets, and the villains make their move on the new heroes.  It’s decent stuff, although I still find David Finch’s art incredibly bland.  I’d hoped for better from King on this title, but imagine he’s dealing with a lot of editorial interference to keep this book from being too good.

Black Road #4 – As Magnus and his charge walk across a frozen lake, we learn a lot more about Magnus’s path, and the identity of the person who has been following them in their journey.  This series, which is probably a lost arc of Northlanders, is really very good.  Brian Wood has a great understanding of the Viking era, and he gives Garry Brown a lot of interesting scenes, and landscape, to draw.

Black Widow #5The third comic of the week with the word Black in the title (proving that black lives do matter, I guess) is full of spycraft and an awesome chase scene, just as we’ve come to expect from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.  This is a brilliantly laid-out comic, as Natasha’s handover of information to her blackmailer goes all wrong when a SHIELD agent with an ax to grind inserts himself into the mix.  Great stuff.

BPRD Hell on Earth #143 – This is the start of the last arc of this series (at least in its Hell on Earth guise – the Mignolaverse people are being pretty quiet about what might come after, if anything), and so we are going for a lot of big moments – nuclear missiles, Liz breaking down, and so on.  Like with Darth Vader below, as we get closer to a big finale, I start to get a little bored.

Casanova: Acedia #6 – Things are staying pretty chaotic in this arc, but it’s all good, because there’s art by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá.  Nothing makes me happier…

Darth Vader #23As we get closer to the big end of this series, things slow down a little.  Vader is working to take his Star Destroyer back from Cylo, and has a little help (not that he knows it) from Dr. Aphra.  I often get bored with the endings of things, and feel like that’s where I’m at right now with this series; it’s still good, but there’s no real promise left.

Dept. H #4 – The mystery keeps deepening as Mia tries to rescue her brother, and finds an odd cave at the ocean floor that may hold some of her father’s secrets.  Matt Kindt (and painter Sharlene Kindt) have put together a very odd but beautiful world in this comic, and a plot that keeps drawing me in deeper and deeper.

Exodus: The Life After #6 – I had kind of assumed that Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo were winding this series down, but instead, we’ve moved eight years into the future, and the Church of the Great Potato seems to be in charge of things.  Esmeralda shows up at one church and tries to explain her reality to the followers she finds, but of course that doesn’t go that well.  I’ve enjoyed this title’s blasphemy and humour since it started, and am happy to see it moving in a completely new direction.

Island #9I think this is the first time that I’ve been disappointed by an issue of Island, but really, none of the stories really grabbed me this time around.  Half of the book is given over to a Zooniverse story by Fil Barlow, who I know was a huge influence of editor Brandon Graham when he was starting out, and while it’s easy to see how this type of thing informed his Prophet and Multiple Warheads, it lacks the charm or sense of forward momentum that Graham injects into his work.  I’m not too pleased to see that there are five more chapters of the Zooniverse story to come; I much preferred Barlow’s work on the apparently aborted 8House.

Lazarus #23 – It’s another issue full of family politicking, interspersed with an excellent fight sequence between Sonia Bittner and an enemy Lazarus.  Greg Rucka’s world building for this series is among the best I’ve ever seen, and Michael Lark’s fights are brilliantly choreographed.  This is one of my favourite Image comics.

Manifest Destiny #21 – More Sasquatches, as we see what happened to the original explorers who made it to this region, after they spent a winter feasting on these new creatures.  This arc hasn’t really done much to feature Lewis and Clark, and that’s fine, as it’s switched up the usual rhythm of the series.  This is one of the more unique books Image is publishing.

Prophet Earth War #5We are very close to the end of Brandon Graham’s epic story, and to be honest, things don’t feel any more dramatic or tense than they have before.  The approach Graham has taken to this book has always been very non-linear, and focused on the smaller stories that make up the bigger picture.  I doubt the final issue will feel much different than that, and I’m okay with that, since it’s the unique storytelling and the art that has always drawn me to this book.  I hope Simon Roy draws something for the last issue.

Rai #15 – We get another look at an earlier Rai, one of the first to really rebel against Father.  I think I’ve become pretty disappointed in the 4001 AD event.  It’s interesting, but the main story could have easily been finished in Rai’s own title, especially since these flashback stories don’t yet feel completely essential to that story.

Rumble #12 – Much of this issue is given over to a long flashback showing Rathraq’s fight with Asura, the character that has now stolen his original body.  Really, John Arcudi just gives James Harren license to cut loose with some crazy barbarian monster fight scenes, and the book is gorgeous.  This is such a unique title; there really is nothing else like it on the stands.

Snotgirl #1 I’m really not sure about Snotgirl.  I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve ever read from Bryan Lee O’Malley, but this first issue in his series about an LA fashion blogger with bad allergies and some serious anxiety feels like it might be trying a little too hard (although that could be intentional; Lottie is the same way).  The pivotal moment at the end of the book feels forced and hard to believe, and so I just don’t know if I want to give the second issue of this comic a shot or not.  It’s probably got more than a little to do with the fact that fashion blogging doesn’t really interest me, and the portrayals of the shallow girls that do it doesn’t (yet, at least) feel like it carries any real insight into their characters.  I’ll give this a second read before the next issue comes out, to see if I feel any differently.

Spider-Man #6 – I’m getting tired of these endless Civil War II ‘talks’ where characters try to figure out how they feel about the ramifications of using Ulysses’s powers, mostly because Tony Stark has yet to make a credible argument against it.  I mean, the main examples we’ve seen so far are that Thanos was going to show up, which he did, and that a Celestial was going to show up, which also happened.  It’s not exactly profiling, is it?  Leaving aside the CWII stuff, this is a solid issue, as Miles begins to build a friendship with Goldballs, lets Ganke off the hook, and gets stalked by Jessica Jones.  Nico Leon came in as a fill-in artist for the CWII issues, giving Sara Pichelli time to catch up, and I was at first worried that he’d be too cartoonish for this title, based on his Ms. Marvel issues, but he actually kept things under control nicely.

Squadron Supreme #9 – This issue focuses on Warrior Woman, who has used Ulysses’s powers to get a sense of where her future lies (and showing us, yet again, a different use of his abilities), while a backup story features a character I didn’t expect to see in this series.  This title has been a little too sprawling and decompressed for me, and is very close to being cut from my pull-file, but with art in the main story by ACO, and then a backup by newcomer (to me at least) Leonardo Romero, who does a great Javier Rodriguez impression, I might stick around a while longer.

Star Wars #21First off, I need to comment on David Aja’s incredible cover for this issue, which focuses on a squad of Stormtroopers.  I’ve always loved the regular Stormtrooper armour, and it’s snow variation, and really wish that Aja was still doing interiors, and could have drawn this story.  There’s nothing wrong with Jorge Molina’s art, but he’s designed each member of the squad with different armour, making it easier to tell the characters apart.  I’d have liked it better had he kept them completely anonymous – I think it makes them more impressive as a fighting force (although, to be brutally honest, Stormtroopers have never been shown to be very effective as a fighting force).  Anyway, I always like stories that focus on the bad guys, and am curious to see where Jason Aaron is going with all of this.

The Ultimates #9 – Once again, I’m very happy with Al Ewing is doing with this book.  The team uses Ulysses’s abilities to prepare to deal with another appearance of the Infinaut, a stranger trying to make his way into our world.  This being The Ultimates though, they decide to try something new, and take an approach that is similar to the way in which they’ve helped Galactus.  What I didn’t really expect was that the Infinaut would be Querl or Vril Dox, but that’s another story.  I was displeased to see that this book is getting relaunched in the fall with a new title and artist.  I’ve really enjoyed what Kenneth Rocafort has done with the art on this book, and prefer his work to Travel Foreman, who is going to be taking over.  At least Ewing’s not going anywhere…

Velvet #15I didn’t expect that Velvet would be ending with this issue (for now, Ed Brubaker has promised to return to the character soon), so the revelations and finality of this issue took me by surprise.  This has been a very good espionage story set in the 70s, and every page of it has been gorgeous thanks to Steve Epting and Bettie Breitweiser.  I highly recommend this series, and expect it would be a much better read in an omnibus, without the lengthy delays between each issue.

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

A & A #5

A-Force #7

All-New Inhumans #9

All-New Wolverine #10

Astro City #37

Dark Horse Presents #24

Faith #1

Nighthawk #3

Nova #9

Sombra #1

Superman #3

Uncanny X-Men #10

Bargain Comics:

Gwenpool #1I didn’t really expect to like this, but my colleague here kept hyping this book.  It’s amusing, in a Deadpool kind of way, with a few good twists.  Had I paid $5 for this first issue, though, I’d have been pretty disappointed.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Flinch Vol. 1 – I never read this Vertigo anthology series when it came out in 1999, and enjoyed sinking back into an era where Vertigo commanded the attention of the best artists and writers, and when their anthology series felt tightly edited.  Almost all of these eight-page stories work very well, and it’s cool to see some big name creators in the same book.

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