The Weekly Round-Up #349 & #350 With Black Panther #5, Captain America: Sam Wilson #12, New Super-Man #2, Ninjak #18, The Black Monday Murders #1, Briggs Land #1 & More

Columns, Top Story

Sorry for the lateness of this column, and the size, but I was on assignment for Comics Nexus, investigating the fashion choices of comics shop employees in Southern California, and so have to do a ‘fortnightly round-up’ this time around.  We will back on the regular schedule next week:

Best Comic of the Week Before Last:

Black Panther #5Yet again, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives us a thoughtful and thought-provoking issue of Black Panther, as T’Challa enlists the aid of Manifold to help him try to stop the rash of repulsor-powered suicide bombers that have been hitting Wakanda recently.  He also, somewhat perplexingly, elicits the help of various dictatorial regimes in the Marvel Universe, as ways to learn about counterinsurgency methods, but no one could imagine him following the type of advice he got.  This is a pretty cerebral comic, and at times it can be tough to follow, but the scene where T’Challa interrogates a would-be bomber is so spot-on in its understanding of T’Challa’s approach to monarchy.  Chris Sprouse takes over as artist on this run, and I’m not sure that I would have immediately recognized the work as his and his usual inker Karl Story’s.  I think he worked hard to stay within the visual lexicon Brian Stelfreeze established for this story, and that works very well for me.

Quick Takes from the Week Before Last:

The Black Monday Murders #1It’s always a good thing when Jonathan Hickman launches a new creator-owned series, and like with all of his work, this one is meticulously planned and makes good use of flowcharts and infographics to support the story.  It seems that there is an occult flavouring to the world of high finance.  We see some of what went on behind the scenes during the beginning of the Great Depression, and then start to look at the current Wall Street situation from two different perspectives – that of the people in power, holding hereditary positions and using magic to shape the market, and that of a police detective who seems to be much more than that, and who is called in to solve the case of the murder of one of the Rothschilds.  Tomm Coker’s dark atmospheric art works well with this story, and Hickman uses the lavish page count to really give the reader an overview of the background, and start the wheels of the story in motion.  There seem to be some similarities between this title and Hickman’s missing book The Dying and the Dead, which I hope he returns too soon.

Daredevil #10 – There are a lot of things that I like about Charles Soule run on Daredevil, but one of my favourite things is the way that it feels like a real run, kind of like Mark Waid’s, unlike so many modern series that really just feel like three arcs and a reboot.  Most of this issue is given over to DD’s work life, as Murdock manages cases, and Blindspot gets led into a macabre mystery that, so far at least, does not revolve around one of the five or six DD rogues that we see endlessly cycled through the book.  This is not any kind of new-style storytelling, but instead a return to classic story structure, while staying contemporary.  It’s a very good series.

Darth Vader #24The penultimate issue of this excellent series does the thing that I was dreading since the book began – it takes us into Vader’s head while he confronts his personal demons, in the form of Hayden Christiansen, Padme, and Obi-Wan.  Still, it’s been a long time in coming and fits with the story, so I can’t be too mad at it.  I am looking forward to more Dr. Aphra in the final issue.

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 – I was pretty pleased to see that Christopher Priest is writing comics again, and despite knowing anything about the New 52 version of Slade Wilson, I was very curious to see what he planned on doing with the character.  One of the things I’ve liked least about Deathstroke over the years has been his connection to his son Jericho, one of the worst-designed characters in comics history.  Priest has this Deathstroke facing the consequences of his poor parenting, but not in ways that we would expect.  Priest uses his usual complex approach to storytelling, having Slade work to convince an African warlord to permit him to kill someone he’d sworn to protect, only for Slade to then decide not to kill that man, and instead disobey the warlord who he bought.  Get it?  It takes a bit, but that’s how Priest structures his stories, and I’ve missed it.  As far as this being a Rebirth one-shot, it reads better as the first issue of the ongoing series, but whatever.  I can see sticking with this title.

Detective Comics #938I’m enjoying this title way more than I expected to, as the team really comes together in the fight against the Colony, and as James Tynion IV shows everyone how you balance an action-filled issue, giving each character a chance or two to really shine.  This is a very well-paced series, and I can even overlook the fact that it is once again delving into the complicated relationship between Batwoman and her father, which has kind of been done to death in my opinion.

Elephantmen #72 – Once again, Richard Starkings gives us an odd issue.  Ebony Hide, recovering from the loss of his legs, goes to visit Dr. Strange (I mean Doctor Alizarine, who only looks like Dr. Strange), where he has a hallucinatory experience.  This issue is drawn by Abigail Jail Harding, who is new to me, and whose art is like an interesting mashup of Denys Cowan, Ben Templesmith, and a touch of Bill Sienkiewicz.  It leads to a very attractive issue.

Empress #5 – This continues to be a very fun science fiction adventure series by two people who are very good at this kind of thing, and yet I have nothing more to say about it than that.

New Super-Man #2 I feel like writer Gene Luen Yang must know a lot of teenagers, because he’s really nailing the character of Kong Keinan, and the way he lives in the intersection of mild narcissism, a desire to help people, and the inability to see the consequences of his actions.  This issue helps flesh out the series a little more, as we meet the Justice League of China, and the team go on their first mission.  Yang’s writing is terrific here – I’m not sure if I like Keinan yet, and that’s largely because Yang doesn’t want us to like him too easily; it’s rare to see a book like this, where the protagonist is not immediately someone the reader wants to identify with.  I think this is one of the best Rebirth titles I’ve read yet.

Ninjak #18 – I’m really tired of the way that so many series lately jump forward in time, showcasing events that are not expected to happen for many years.  If done sparingly, it can work very well, but lately it seems to be obligatory in so many titles coming from many different companies.  The latest arc in Ninjak has Colin and the Eternal Warrior going after one of the Shadow Seven (or whatever they’re called) in about thirty years.  It’s fine, but I’m kind of over it.

Old Man Logan #10We see Logan as the prisoner of the Silent Order, both in the present, and in his past/our future.  This series is pretty decompressed, but with Andrea Sorrentino drawing this book, and designing each page so beautifully, it doesn’t bother me one bit.

Providence #10 – I was just thinking about how, ultimately, this series is pretty dull, when Alan Moore finally has something big happen, and Robert Black is contacted by a higher being or something.  I don’t know.  I find that the rhythms of this comic’s lengthy conversations lull me into just accepting the story, but I don’t really think I care all that much about what Moore is doing with this comic.  It has some interesting parts, but this far in, I’d have thought I’d be a little more invested in the story.

Vision #10 – The Vision family is both in mourning and under house arrest, while the Avengers figure out what to do about them and Victor Mancha.  Once again, Tom King gives us an excellent issue as we get a look into the Vision’s thought processes, and attempt to address the age old question of whether or not robots have souls.  Great stuff, from the best title Marvel is publishing right now.

Wonder Woman #4The second chapter of the Year One story shows us just how Diana ended up leaving Themyscira, and how she got her invisible plane (sort of – it’s really just left for us to figure things out).  I like the work that Greg Rucka is doing with this book so far, and Nicola Scott’s art is, of course, gorgeous, but I’m sad to see that just about everything cool and new that Brian Azzarello did with WW is being ignored.

The Best Comic of the Last Week:

Captain America: Sam Wilson #12 – Okay, I think that Nick Spencer is writing the best Captain America since Ed Brubaker.  This issue has Sam dealing with the Americops, while the corporate guys behind them try to hire USAgent John Walker (who appears to have his hand back) to take the shield away from them.  To convince him, they use some familiar talking points (such as building a wall around Mexico).  Oh, and Rage is in the comic too.  I seriously love the blend of late 80s comic love with modern politics.

Quick Takes for the Last Week:

Aliens Defiance #3 I was wondering where this title had gotten to, and now I see that the original artist (Nat Jones, I think) has been replaced, at least for this issue, by Riccardo Burchielli, making it a bit of a DMZ reunion thing, although not in terms of theme or story.  In this issue, Zulu and the artificial unit that has been leading the mission have to deal with all the other synthetics on their commandeered ship mutinying against them.  It’s a solid action issue, and it kind of flips the usual Aliens scene on its head, as the heroes are running from other ‘good guys’ through very familiar settings.  I like this title, and hope that whatever has put it behind schedule has been addressed.

Batman #5 – Batman, the Justice League, and Alfred in a bat-suit all take turns trying to stop Gotham this issue, as we learn how his powers work.  I’m disappointed that Tom King’s writing on this book is not more impressive.  The comic is fine, but with him and David Finch working on it, it’s not really meeting expectations.

Black Hammer #2 – Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston spend this issue further fleshing out the central characters in this series about a group of heroes who have been trapped for a decade in a small rural town they can’t leave.  This issue focuses on Gail, the fifty-five year old woman trapped in the body of a nine year old girl, only without her Captain Marvel-like powers.  I’m enjoying this new series, and while it feels familiar, I do want to know more about these characters.

Black Road #5Things switch up a little here, at the end of the first arc, and as Julia turns on Magnus, shooting him with her crossbow and leaving him for dead.  I enjoy the way that Brian Wood keeps a lot of information to himself, and builds the mystery of just who Kitta the Blacksmith is.  This is an entertaining read.

Black Widow #6 – It turns out that Natasha is somewhat responsible for the creation of Iron Man, or so we learn this issue (which leaves me also wondering if she still met Captain America and Wolverine during WWII), as the first story arc comes to its conclusion in an interesting way.  Mark Waid and Chris Samnee continue to really impress with this title.

BPRD Hell on Earth #144 – Most of this issue is given over to Iosif and Varvara journeying through Hell, and in a lot of ways, it feels more like a Hellboy issue than a BPRD one (Iosif even falls through a floor at one point; the most Hellboy story trope ever).  In some ways, I feel like John Arcudi and Mike Mignola are spinning their wheels a little as they get ready to finish off this gigantic story arc.  Things are definitely not moving very quickly.

Briggs Land #1Brian Wood (who is pretty busy this week, with three comics coming out) often explores communities that live outside of standard social structures in his work, from DMZ to The Massive to Northlanders, to even the Couriers.  Now, with Briggs Land, he is examining life in a secessionist group of white Americans who try to live off the grid (although it’s established very quickly from the start that they do not).  The main character, Grace Briggs, takes over control of the community from her imprisoned husband in the first few pages, and this causes an immediate rift among her sons, and presumably the entire community.  Wood doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to some action, as assassins try to kill Grace during the night, and we are not yet sure if they might have been sent by (or actually are) one or another of her kids.  Wood has definitely caught my interest with this book, which reminds me a little of Ed Brisson’s amazing series Sheltered, and which feels very topical, given some of the insanity going on in American politics right now.

Carver: A Paris Story #5 – Chris Hunt wraps up this story rather nicely.  I think that Carver will read a lot better in trade, but I did enjoy it, especially Hunt’s art.

Descender #14Bandit, the dog robot, gets a spotlight issue, as we get to see what he was up to during the decade when he was alone on the mining colony, before we jump to the contemporary story, which has him and his companions looking for Tim-21.  Descender is a great series, but this is a pretty lightweight, if kind of cute, chapter.

Horizon #2 – I thought I’d see what the second issue of this new series was like, since the first one caught my eye but didn’t convince me to add the title to my pull-list.  This one introduces the other two members of the small squad of aliens who have come to Earth to stop them from invading their home planet.  The first is a warrior type, while the second has been captured by people who obviously know what he is.  I think that Brandon Thomas has done a good job starting this story, and while there are a lot of answers needed, he’s left me intrigued to learn more.  Juan Gedeon’s art is distinct, and works nicely with this story.  I’m not sure if I’m fully on board yet, but I will probably grab the next issue.

Manifest Destiny #22 – Much of this Sasquatch arc has been given over to the experiences of an earlier explorer, who has been having visions of the Spanish conquistador Maldonado.  This month, we get a good look at the likely use of the arches that have been found across pre-European settlement America, and what could come out of them.  This is a very engaging series, and it continues to entertain.

Nightwing #3I’d decided that this would be my deadline issue of Nightwing, and while I’m still holding on to some reservations about this title, I think I’m going to continue with it.  I like the new character Raptor, and find the way Dick is going about his mission to be interesting, even if the whole labyrinth/booby trap scene in this issue felt a little too familiar.

Poe Dameron #5 – Five issues in, and I still don’t find Poe Dameron’s character very interesting.  I do like the general setup of this title, as Charles Soule has Poe hunting that guy from the beginning of the Force Awakens, and has him getting involved in elaborate prison break schemes to do so.  A lot of this issue is given over to BB-8 and some droid friends, with the result being that this was a very quick read.

Power Man & Iron Fist #7 – Luke is working with a motley group of former villains and their families to try to figure out who is hunting them all down, while Danny is in jail for some pretty suspect reasons.  This is a solid issue, but there are a lot of people bouncing around, and the narration is overly dependent on boxes identifying the different characters.  More CWII stuff going on here, and I have to wonder how likely it is that Storm would be working with Carol Danvers.

Rumble #13Bobby has a serious chat with Timah, and we learn about her mystical background, while Rathraq’s body is used in an ill fated attempt to regain his heart while Rathraq himself is stuck dealing with the police.  John Arcudi and James Harren have put together a truly unique and enjoyable comic with this series.

Spider-Woman #10 – Jess and Ben Urich bounce around confirming the accuracy of Ulysses’s visions in this issue, which is, like all of this series, a pleasure to read.  

Supergirl Rebirth #1 – I’ve never really cared much about Supergirl (I’ve never even read Peter David’s run!), but since I’ve been having good luck with the Rebirth books, and this is being written by Steve Orlando, who I liked on Undertow and Midnighter, I thought I’d give it a shot.  The first point in its favour is that it features Cameron Chase as director of the DEO, although she’s more in the Maria Hill mode than I remember her from her own title.  Anyway, the arrangement is that Kara is going to live with a married pair of DEO agents and adjust to life on Earth, while helping them with various threats and stuff.  It’s a good premise, but the fact that the first story arc looks to be heavily Krypton-based bores me a little.  I’m not sure if there’s enough here to carry my interest into the ongoing series…

The Ultimates #10Civil War really does come to the Ultimates as the team comes to blows with one another while debating how to best use Ulysses’s abilities.  Al Ewing really knows how to make good use of these characters.

The Wicked + The Divine #22 – This is a pretty monumental issue, as the big fight comes to its conclusion, and Ananke’s plans are laid bare for everyone to see.  In typical WicDiv fashion, something pretty unexpected happens at the end of the issue, and whatever is going to happen next in this series is pretty much impossible to predict.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are doing the best work of their careers on this book.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #10 – Gilad finds his way to the end of the labyrinth, and confronts the man who has been holding him prisoner, but that just leads to more questions and confusion for our hero.  I’ve really been enjoying the new take that Robert Venditti and Raúl Allen have on this character, and am curious to see where it goes from here.

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

A&A #6

A&A Vol. 1

Accused #1

A-Force #8

Agents of SHIELD #8

All-New All-Different Avengers #13

All-New Inhumans #10

All-New Wolverine #11

All-New X-Men #12

All-Star Batman #1

Amazing Spider-Man #16

Astro City: Honour Guard HC

Backstagers #1

Chapterhouse Summer Special 2016 #1

Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #3

Civil War II: Choosing Sides #4

Civil War II: X-Men #3

Daredevil Punisher #4

Dark Horse Presents #25

Doctor Fate #15

Fallen #1

Green Arrow #5

Harrow County #15

House of Penance #5

Mighty Thor #10

Mockingbird #6

Scarlet Witch #9

Uncanny Avengers #12

War Stories #19

Weavers #4

Bargain Comics:

Convergence: Hawkman #1&2Even a creative team like Jeff Parker and Tim Truman couldn’t do much with the Convergence restrictions and limitations.  Too bad, this should have been cool…

Mighty Thor #7 – I liked Thor, but ended up dropping it because of issues like this one and the one that preceded it.  The amazing regular series artist, Russell Dauterman, probably needed a break, and so artist Rafa Garres, whose work reminds me of a more abstract and rushed Daniel Brereton, came on board, which I’m fine with.  What I’m sick of are Jason Aaron’s continued insistence of telling stories of the long-time, male Thor’s, youth during the Viking days.  It’s like Aaron wants to write Northlanders, and when this book is supposed to be about Jane Foster’s Thor, it’s irritating.

Ringside #1 – I didn’t give this Image series a shot, because I really don’t care much about wrestling, but now having read the first issue, I regret that decision.  This book, by Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber, starts off very well, as an ageing and retired wrestler with some renown has to return to the States to help an old friend, only to find himself at the end of a beatdown.  I’m intrigued, and am going to have to pick up the trade now.

Scarlet Witch #6I continue to be very impressed with the artistic choices made with this book, this time around as Marguerite Sauvage takes over for an issue, while also remaining frustrated with James Robinson’s writing choices.  This book is really not going anywhere.  This issue features Wanda helping Le Peregrine (France’s national hero, who they call Le Faucon Pèlerin) after he suffers a personal tragedy, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, it reminds me of the one-off stories that used to pad out issues of Marvel Comics Presents (albeit with much better art).

This Damned Band #1-6 – I picked this up on a whim, and ended up enjoying it a fair amount, while finding some flaws.  Basically, a 70s rock band that has played at Satanism, at least so far as their fans know, are (somewhat) surprised to find that a string of awful and/or impossible things are starting to happen to them.  It’s an entertaining book, and I enjoy Tony Parker’s art a lot, but the conceit that we are watching a documentary gets strained by the needs of the story a few times too many.

Über #21-27Kieron Gillen’s alternative WWII history works so much better in large chunks than it does reading individual issues, as he gets pretty lost in the mechanics of war, and doesn’t worry as much about character here as he does in other series.  That said, I liked this last bunch of issues so much that I might have to add the upcoming second series, Über Invasion, to my pull-file list.

Uncanny Avengers #6 – I think that Gerry Duggan is writing too many comics, and that he is not really keeping my attention with any of them.  This issue really shows what’s wrong with this title – it focuses on just a few of the main characters (Deadpool, Quicksilver, and Synapse) and the others don’t even appear.  We learn that Synapse is not very familiar with the Inhuman royal family, which makes the fact that she’s on the Unity Squad to represent the Inhumans very strange; I’d thought that she was appointed for that reason.  The stuff about the original Avengers Mansion being used as a boutique hotel for cosplayers is cute, but I don’t think that any Avengers title should be attempting to recreate Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League in this day and age.

The Fortnight in Graphic Novels:

The Absence

by Martin Stiff

I grabbed the hardcover ofThe Absence, which was originally a six-issue self-published series that ran from 2008 to 2013, on a whim.  The art didn’t particularly appeal to me, but there was something that grabbed me when I flipped through it.

The story is set in a small English village on the channel coast, starting in 1946, when a storm starts ripping apart a cliffside church, and the local priest has to decide which is better, continued existence in the village, or being dashed to the rocks below.  His choice gives us the sense that maybe thingsaren’t so great in this town.

The story really begins as Marwood Clay, the only local boy to survive the war, returns home.  No one is very pleased to see Marwood – there was some sort of scandal before he left, and the town basically considers him a murderer, although we have to read almost the entire book before we can find out why.

Somehow, during the war, Marwood had his lips and the skin around them ripped off his face, leaving him a ghastly sight, which probably doesn’t make it any easier to relate to for both the villagers and the reader.  We learn that there is someone else new in town as well, a Dr. Temple, who has brought a small army of workmen with him to construct a bizarre house to very exacting specifications.

As this is the type of English village that doesn’t react well to change, no one is particularly happy about anything for the first chunk of this book, and the questions start to pile up.  What did Marwood do that makes everyone hate him so much?  Why does only one girl, Helen, seem to feel differently about him?  What is Dr. Temple’s true purpose in building this strange home, and why is so exact about its measurements?  Who is the old man who keeps trying to get in contact with him?  What did Temple do during the war?  Why does he seem to be able to predict random events with such accuracy?  Why do people in the village keep disappearing, including the young boy who tries to befriend Marwood?

Stiff packs a lot into this story, and while parts of it feel very improbable, it is a deeply satisfying read.  I enjoyed the look at life in an English village, but found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the work that Temple was doing (although I never understood it).  His art is kind of rough and sketchy, but it tells the story well, and helps to preserve an idea about a way of life that is pretty much gone.

The Fifth Beatle

Written by Vivek J. Tiwary
Art by Andrew Robinson and Kyle BakerI’ve never been a big Beatles fan, largely because to me, it’s the music of commercials and montages in comedy movies.  That said, I’m always interested in serious graphic novels that examine periods of history, and so I thought it would be good to check The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story out.Brian Epstein was the Beatles’ manager, ‘discovering’ them in a small bar in Liverpool, and using his industry connections (he managed a large music store) to get them started on the road to superstardom.  This book is his story, mostly focusing on how he balanced his ambition, his hidden homosexuality, and his abuse of prescription medication.

Vivek Tiwary, the writer of this book, is incredibly knowledgeable about the Beatles, and does a great job of keeping Epstein squarely in the middle of this story, resisting the urge to make it be about the members of the band, who largely remain interchangeable and lost in the background, aside from Paul McCartney, who seems to have had a stronger connection with Epstein than the rest did.

Andrew Robinson is one of those artists who I always feel deserve a lot more renown than they get.  He excels at this kind of character-driven story, while also evoking the era beautifully.  The Kyle Baker segment is a cartoonish look at the band’s adventures in the Philippines while on tour, and I felt that it kind of disrupted the flow of the whole story.

As a whole, this is a very sensitive and understanding look at the life of a man whose work is remembered much more than his name, and who had to live secretly and unhappily in order to achieve his goals.  It’s sad, but also triumphant.

Hip Hop Family Tree 1975-1983 Gift Box

by Ed Piskor

It’s surprising that I hadn’t read any of Ed Piskor’s incredible series before now, considering that I’m almost as much a hip hop head as I am a comics head.  The Gift Box Set contains volumes one and two of Piskor’s oversized Hip Hop Family Tree series, as well as a 90s-style ashcan comic about Rob Liefeld.  Despite a pair of excellent FCBD issues that I enjoyed, I waited until now, which with the release of The Get Down on Netflix, is the perfect time to read this comic.

Piskor’s set out to tell the entire story of hip hop music and culture in these books, sharing it in short one or two page strips that combine to tell the much larger story.  The first volume begins in 1975 with the earliest forms of hip hop, and this box takes it through to 1983, and the emergence of Run-DMC as a new powerhouse.

Piskor’s research and attention to detail is incredible, as is his ability to keep things interesting and coherent, even though the story jumps all over the place without chapter breaks, blending it all together.  This becomes even more complicated when hip hop breaks out of New York and starts to appear in other parts of the country, such as the early LA scene.  I can see how, as the book moves into the late 80s and 90s, this is going to become more and more complex, since each major city developed its own regional variations.

Anyway, this is a great read, and an example of true virtuosic work on Piskor’s part.  The design of the book is incredible, and every aspect of it has been clearly thought out and planned meticulously.  I like the way that the pages look like yellowed pages from that era, but when Piskor shows a scene from later, the colouring and design reflects that era (bright and clear for the late 80s, for example).

I also like the fact that, as I read this book, the Internet makes it possible to pull up artifacts from that time, like Blondie’s horrendous ‘Rapture’ video, and to watch Charlie Ahearn’s classic film Wild Style on Netflix, since I was really young during the period that Piskor is portraying.  It feels like early hip hop has become popular again (see The Get Down to see what I mean), and I wonder if Piskor has had something to do with that.

Reading all of this, I am left with one burning question though, and that’s my desire to know just what it is that Piskor has against Russell Simmons.  He’s really not kind to the man…

What would you like to know?