The Weekly Round-Up #354 With Letter 44 #27, Alters #1, Doom Patrol #1, The Forevers #1, Resident Alien: The Man With No Name #1 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Letter 44 #27 – From the beginning, Letter 44 has stood out as one of the best comics on the stands, and I think that this issue is one of the best of the entire run.  Charles Soule packs a ton of story into this one issue, as we finally learn the purpose of the Chandelier and what the Builders are doing with it, the crew of the Clarke make a desperate move to save their daughter, which has massive consequences for the 666 people that were going to survive the destruction of the Earth.  To add a little more to the drama, we also see President Blades makes one of the most difficult decisions of his life as he gives up his son, and we see Drum respond to former President Carroll’s attempt to blackmail him.  This is one incredible series.  I’ve really grown to care about most of the main characters, and love the balance between politics and hard science fiction.  I cannot recommend this enough.

Quick Takes:

Alters #1 – I thought I’d check out this Aftershock title by Paul Jenkins, and was only somewhat impressed.  Jenkins has created a world where there are a number of superhumans, called Altereds, but they are mostly under the control of one very powerful guy with a name I’ve already forgotten.  When a new one shows up, a small group of heroes try to get her to safety, but she leaves them.  Later, we find out that she’s a transwoman still living as a man, at home with her family, who don’t know her secret yet.  At first I thought the main character was a teenager, but later she is shown at an office job, so I’m a little confused there.  I know that the book got some flack for cultural appropriation, but I think I was more irritated by the fact that the trans aspect is the only thing that makes this stand out from a slew of superhero comics that Image put out in the early 00s.  It’s not bad, but it’s not very special.

The Black Monday Murders #2 – I didn’t realize that every issue of this series was going to be oversized (maybe it’s actually just the first two), but Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker really give you your money’s worth with this issue.  We look back on another Black Monday, in 1985, to gain more context on the series, and then return to the present, where the detective continues to investigate the murder that happened within the inner circle of a powerful investment bank, and finds himself on the trail of the mysticism that underpins the world’s financial markets.  This is a dark, well-researched book that really has my interests.  

Black Panther #6 – This is the first issue of this series to come out since I finally embarked on rereading Christopher Priest’s Panther series for my retro reviews column, reading one issue of that classic every day.  Today I read the issue that Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits in T’Challa’s monologue about how he is torn between his sense of personhood and his role as a King, which led him to lie about why he joined the Avengers.  It’s an interesting take on things, and very relevant as he takes the fight to The People, who earlier in the issue enter into battle with the Hatut Zeraze.  Coates brings in more of the Marvel Universe with this issue (Fenris!) while continuing to explore issues of governance, monarchy, and the difference between being enslaved and being a slave.  My enthusiasm for this title does not diminish.

Black Science #24 – Grant starts to feel the effects of the deal he made with a witch to save his daughter, and then, finally, returns Pia to their home dimension, only to find out that writer Rick Remender is never going to allow any of his characters anything even approaching a happy ending.  Things take yet another dark turn with this issue.

Briggs Land #2 – With this second issue, Grace Briggs works to consolidate control over the land she’s just seized from her incarcerated husband.  To really be in charge, she has to get her two oldest sons on side, and that means a bit of horse trading, before she heads down into the village to look for the person who tried to kill her last issue.  I like how Brian Woods is slowly revealing the truth of what life is like on Briggs Land, a secessionist community in backwoods New York.  I feel like this is going to grow into being a very interesting and rewarding series.

Deathstroke #2 – Larry Hama comes onboard to provide layouts for this series, which is a great idea as it will provide more consistency when the artists shift, and because it’s great to see a legendary comics creator back in action.  Slade and Wintergreen are on the hunt for whoever locked Wintergreen up, and that, in typical Christopher Priest fashion, means that we jump around in the story’s timeline a little, as everything somehow relates to a mission in Cambodia some eight years prior.  We also meet what has to be the second Canadian superhero in the post New 52 DC (Equinox being the first), which is kind of cool, although I don’t know that Windsor deserves the honour.  I have no idea how Ravager was used in the New 52, but I’m curious to see what is done with her here (although she hasn’t actually shown up yet).  Priest does not disappoint with this comic.

Detective Comics #940 – Much of what happened in this issue got revealed over the last couple of weeks, but I’ going to try to avoid saying anything specific here.  This issue has a big emotional moment that worked very well, and then at the very end, it appears to tie in to the larger DC meta-story that may or may not have something to do with the Watchmen, and which I want nothing to do with.  Detective has been one of my favourite Rebirth books, and a real pleasure, but I would be much happier if it stayed in its own lane, instead of having to get into some big future crossover crap.  

Doom Patrol #1 – On my first reading of Gerard Way’s new take on the team that best exemplified the creation of Vertigo, what I most feared has proved true.  I think that Way is doing a lot of ‘weird for weird’s sake’ here, and after reading the issue, I don’t much care about what’s happening in it, nor am I interested in reading the next issue.  The thing is, I’m tired and grouchy, so I’m going to give this a rare second read tomorrow, when I’m more coherent and generous…

Doom Patrol #1 – Okay, on the second read through, I’m sorry to report that I don’t like this any more than I did the first time.  Way introduces us to Casey, an ambulance driver that we are told is weird, and her partner, who talks about the possibility that there’s another universe inside his gyro, which then explodes and doesn’t get discussed at all.  They find Robotman, who is hit by a bus and taken home by Casey.  Her roommate is killed by a lady in a Rockettes outfit, who becomes her new roommate.  Niles Caulder sits in front of a keyboard.  Weird extra-dimensional beings want to use Danny the Street to market fast food.  Morrison’s Doom Patrol worked because it used ridiculous concepts within the context of a superhero comic that was not aware of how ridiculous it was.  It also worked because it was full of complex and interesting characters.  Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol didn’t work, because it spent all its time self-consciously chasing a Morrisonian level of weirdness, without heart or character development.  Way’s work here feels more like Pollack than Morrison.  I hope the second issue is a lot better, because I really like Nick Derrington’s art, and would like to support this title and the new Young Animal imprint.  I’m not going to do it blindly though.  I’ve already taken this book off my pull-file list, so unless things get a lot better next issue, that’s it.

East of West #29 – I know this came out a couple of weeks ago, but Diamond is a monopoly, so sometimes books just show up when they show up.  This issue closes off the second season of EoW, as Babylon has to fight off a group of bounty hunters, and finally gets to meet someone who has been looking for him for a long time.  I didn’t expect an emotional moment in this issue of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s saga, so I think it makes sense that they played the big moment as more of an awkward one than anything else.  This continues to be an excellent title.

The Fix #5 – My but The Fix is such a wonderfully twisted series.  Nick Spencer just keeps the depravity train rolling, as Roy needs to figure out both how to solve the murder of the actress he was supposed to be protecting, and more importantly, how to benefit from it on a personal level.  The last page, once again, has a twist I didn’t see coming, and as we meet the mayor of LA, there is plenty of opportunity for hilarity.  I really love this comic.

The Forevers #1 – I liked Curt Pires’s Fictions, so I thought I’d check out his new Black Mask series with Eric Pfeiffer.  There are some similarities, as this is also a series about a group of people who shared a bond when they were younger but had since drifted apart.  In this case, there was an occult ceremony that happened when a group of seven friends were about to make it big in their different careers.  Now, more than ten years have passed.  We meet an aging junkie rocker, and a coke-addled actress.  Most of the issue is given over to developing these two characters, at least one of whom we won’t meet again.  To be honest, were it not for the summary on the back of the issue, I’m not sure I would have understood everything that was going on here.  Pfeiffer’s art is nice, but it’s that hyper-realistic painted kind of thing that reminds me of John Bolton, and which always leaves me a little cold.  I’m intrigued, but am not sure if I’m going to stick with this.

New Super-Man #3 – So Kong Kenan has revealed his secret identity to the world, as well as the existence of the Justice League of China, and that lands him in hot water with Dr. Omen.  We are starting to get a better sense of the big picture in this series, as Kenan’s announcement leads to a cameo by one of the Great Ten, and begins to draw the attention of others.  I really like the way Gene Luen Yang is writing this book, and think it’s a rare gem in the DC Rebirth lineup, being a completely new character and approach to superheroics, while staying grounded in the company’s legacy.

Old Man Logan #11 – Not a lot happens in this title in any individual issue, but things still look very nice thanks to Andrea Sorrentino.  We see Logan fight the Silent Order both in the present and in the future/his past.  I wish this book was less decompressed, really.

Resident Alien: The Man With No Name #1 – The fourth Resident Alien starts off in the typical manner, rather sleepily, as the government gets closer to figuring out Doc Harry’s secrets (he’s an alien posing as a small town human doctor), a drifter comes to town, and Harry plays poker with the Mayor and Police Chief.  Peter Hogan has done an incredible job of fleshing out this small northwest town and the people who live there, and Steve Parkhouse always makes the characters believable.  I’m always happy when this book shows up on the stands again, and am especially pleased to see that this is a four-issue miniseries (the standard has been three, with a zero issue collecting shorts from DHP).  It’s good stuff.

Southern Cross #7 – It’s great to see Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger’s excellent series back on the stands.  This issue moves the story to the Romulus mining rig on Titan, where Kyril, who was last seen getting in an escape pod on the Cross, turns up.  Everyone is worried about where their supply ship is, and we are given a tour and sense of the facility by its manager.  It’s clear that things aren’t great here – the workers are restless and angry, and now food rations need to go into effect.  The security seems a little rabid, and the mysteries are starting to pile up.  Cloonan has really grown as a writer since she started this book, and Belanger continues to be very impressive with the sense of design he brings to this title.  

Spider-Man #8 – Imagine the DVD deleted scenes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, only Rosencrantz is played by Miles (Spider-Man) Morales, and Guildenstern is played by Sam (Nova) Alexander, and instead of Hamlet, they were running around the backgrounds of Civil War II, and you’d basically get this comic.  It starts promisingly with a great scene featuring Miles learning about his grandmother hiring Jessica Jones to spy on him, but from there, we see very full scenes that happened between the panels of Civil War II issues from a month or two ago.  Captain Marvel and Iron Man give a big speech to some assembled heroes about the Hulk, and none of it has much to do with Miles, nor was any of it important enough to put in the actual comic where all the heroes went after the Hulk.  I mean, if it’s all easily implied off-panel, why fill a whole tie-in issue with it, aside from the reason that Brian Michael Bendis gets to do whatever he wants?  Disappointing, because when this comic is about Miles, it’s very good.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #18 – Last month I was a little confused when the story suddenly started focusing on Annie, an aging housewife with a number of personal problems.  This month, it all makes more sense when Beth and her friends show up on Annie’s door, because Annie is her estranged mother.  What follows is some deeply messed up family dynamic stuff, as Beth tries to get the staph-infected and broken-handed Orson some real help before they can plot their next move.  David Lapham is a pretty twisted creator, and I love it.  There are a lot of truly terrific moments in this issue.

Wonder Woman #6 – At this point, it’s safe to say that I like the Year One, even-numbered issues of this title much more than I do the odd-numbered ones.  Maybe it’s because of Nicola Scott’s incredible artwork, or just that I’m enjoying WW’s origin story more than I expected to.  This issue has her meeting with Americans for the first time, and brings Barbara Ann Minerva into the story.  It’s all pretty decent.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #11 – Now that Gilad’s free from the Dying One, he’s eager to patch things up with his first-born son, Kalam.  The problem is, Kalam’s left the paradise where Gilad’s family exists, and now he’s missing.  This is another strong issue in what’s been an excellent run.

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

A-Force #9

All-New Inhumans #11

All-New X-Men #13

All-Star Batman #2

Astro City #38

Cinema Purgatorio #5

Civil War II Amazing Spider-Man #4

Civil War II Ulysses #2

Gotham Academy Second Semester #1

Hadrian’s Wall #1

Harrow County #16

Harrow County Vol. 3 Snake Doctor

House of Penance #6

Mockingbird #7

Scarlet Witch #10

Uncanny Avengers #14

Uncanny Inhumans #13

Bargain Comics:

All-New, All-Different Avengers #9-12 – Even bringing artist Mahmud Asrar onto this title, whose work I think is better suited to it than Humberto Ramos’s, did not do much to fix the things that I found wrong with the first eight issues of the series.  Honestly, it feels like Mark Waid is just phoning it in on this one, especially when you compare it to his infinitely superior Black Widow or his recent Daredevil runs (although on both of those books, he’s been giving artist Chris Samnee a lot of writing credit).  The new Wasp randomly shows up in the Avengers Warehouse, and in no time, she’s a welcomed member of the cast.  The team goes looking for Nova’s father, and somehow end up prisoners of Annihilus, who they take out quite easily.  There’s really just no substance to this title, and it’s a shame, because the character lineup is so interesting.  Imagine what Kurt Busiek could do with a setup like this.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Juanjo GuarnidoI read and loved the first Dark HorseBlacksad graphic novel quite a while ago, and for some reason I’ve really taken my time in getting around to the second one, A Silent Hell (although the third is already in my to-read pile, so that will come a lot quicker).Blacksad is a private investigator in a world of anthropomorphic animal people.  In this issue, he’s come to 1950s New Orleans with his reporter friend Weekly, and has been hired by a dying jazz label impresario to track down a missing junkie piano player, who the old man loves as a son (and more than his own son).  Very quickly, as this is a fast-moving story, writer Juan Díaz Canales has us immersed in the underbelly of the jazz scene, as the old man’s son tries to stop Blacksad, and some very questionable things start happening.

This book is absolutely gorgeous.  Artist Juanjo Guarnido employs a watercolour technique that leads to some truly stunning pages.  He also takes many, many pages to explain his process and show us a variety of sketches and colour treatments he executed to get the book to look this good.  This section would be a real boon to artists just starting out, or ones who are established and want to learn to use watercolours for comics.

I really enjoyed this book, which I devoured in one setting.  It gives us an interesting look at New Orleans and its black and creole cultures, and is a master class in pacing and using flashbacks to structure a story.  The two short stories added on the end are excellent as well.

I know that there are more Blacksad albums in Europe than there have been published in English, and I’m hoping that more of them will be made available to us.

Nailbiter Vol. 2 – The hard thing about reading a series in trade is that many months can pass between journeys to that story (or, in this case, to the town of Buckaroo, where an inordinate number of citizens have become serial killers over the years), and so it took me a while to get into this trade, but once I did, I found myself quickly hooked.  Joshua Williamson is taking a very strange approach to this story, but it’s working for me, as mysteries continue to pile up about what is really going on in this place.  Most surprising was that comics writer Brian Michael Bendis shows up as a character here, come to town to conduct some research for a new comic he is writing, which reminds me of the time that Warren Ellis showed up in his Powers.  This is a good series, and I now want to read the rest of it.

Noble Causes Vol. 4: Blood & Water – This is the first of the Noble Causes volumes to collect issues from the ongoing series, and it features some big changes.  First, Race is alive again and fully integrated into the book, and Fran Bueno has taken over as artist, employing a more cartoonish approach than his predecessors.  Doc starts acting strangely, Krennick is suspected of killing a prostitute, and Race and Liz hit some snags in their relationship.  This is a good read, but it feels like more of a traditional superhero family story in this volume, without the usual focus on the problems of celebrity.


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