The Weekly Round-Up #369 With A.D. After Death Book Two, Civil War II #8, Deathstroke #9, Sex #34, Star Wars #26 & More

Happy New Year everyone!  I feel like this coming year is going to be a challenging one on many fronts, politically, sociologically, and in the world of comic books.  Reading the comics press lately, you can’t help but feel that a shakeup is coming in the industry and at the comics shops.  One thing that I know, though, is that a lot of great stories are going to be told, and that’s always exciting.

What are you looking forward to this year?  Let us know in the comments.

Best Comic of the Week:

A.D. After Death Book Two – I’m stunned by the depth and quality of this oversized graphic/prose novel.  Scott Snyder never lays everything out clearly for us, but we learn a lot more about how Jonah became involved in the cure for death, and get a clear sense that he is the only person who is unhappy with the life his small community is living high in the mountains.  We know from the beginning that he’s destined to go down to lower altitudes, where we are led to assume that just about everybody is dead and the environment poisoned, and we are shown through the rest of the comics parts of this book the events that lead to his decent.  Between those scenes are the lengthier illustrated prose sections, that have Jonah narrating his life before the cure.  We learn that the thieving we learned about in the first issue is not just a compulsion or habit for Jonah, but a second career.  Snyder clearly has done his research into the ways in which high end theft works in the Internet age, and it looks like he spends as much time thinking about his own mortality.  This is a very carefully structured project, and I can’t think of anyone better than Jeff Lemire to illustrate it.  His slightly wonky drawings continuously remind us that things aren’t alright in the future.  This is a very impressive comic, and easily the best thing that Snyder’s ever written.

Quick Takes:

Aliens: Defiance #8 – One thing I’ve always liked about the Aliens aesthetic is the way in which all of the technology in the movies seems so old and barely held-together.  Brian Wood digs into that a little with this issue, which has Zula and Davis working to keep their stolen vessel together while the continue with their mission.  Zula has an opportunity to make her way home, if she is able to trust her doctor, and it’s interesting to see her play with that thought, even though it’s likely not in her best interests.  This continues to be one of the most interesting takes on the Aliens world that I’ve seen yet.

Batgirl #6 – I’ve been on the fence about Batgirl, mostly because her trip to Asia really didn’t constitute a new direction for the series, and I wanted to see what Hope Larson had planned for Barbara long-term.  This issue does a good job of pushing me away though, as it has Poison Ivy transporting a fossilized plant back to the Gotham on the same flight as Babs, and the mixture altitude and turbulence somehow revive the plant, which then sets about trying to destroy the airplane.  So basically, it’s the Bat-equivalent of that episode of every spaceship science fiction TV series where a plant or some other non sentient thing tries to blow stuff up for no good reason.  It’s dumb.  I also don’t like that the final pages introduce the son of the Penguin as a new recurring character.  I think I’m done here, unless the new artist coming in after Rafael Albuquerque blows me away.

Black Panther #9 – My but Ta-Nehisi Coates’s characters can get to be pretty wordy in this series, but the longer it runs, the more I find myself enjoying it, and connecting to it on a variety of levels.  This issue sets aside the superheroics of the last few issues, instead focusing on the nature of The People’s revolt in Wakanda, the areas where the Midnight Angels’ approach to revolution differ from Tetu’s and Zenzi’s, and how T’Challa and the newly returned Shuri feel they should respond.  Coates is really breaking down systems of governance here, and looking at the ways in which nations are built.  It’s not typical comic book fare, especially at Marvel, and that makes it even more interesting.  It’s nice to see Brian Stelfreeze back on this title for a while, as his art has been missed (even though I liked what Chris Sprouse was doing in his absence).  Good stuff, once again.

Black Widow #9 – The choreography in the fight scene between Natasha and Winter Soldier and the Recluse, the woman who wants Nat dead, is incredible.  Chris Samnee has always been good, but as he and Mark Waid continue to work to each other’s strengths, he just keeps getting better.  This is a very beautiful issue of an excellent series.

Captain America: Steve Rogers #8 – Amid all the Hydra stuff, including the lengthy flashbacks to Steve’s retconned past, there hasn’t been a lot of room for Cap to be Cap on any level, and between his actions in this book, and the way he was shown hiding in the background throughout CWII, I’m beginning to wonder why anyone would continue to hold him in the levels of respect and reverence we’ve seen over the years.  In this issue, Cap helps Captain Marvel fight off a Chitauri invasion, and gets all upset when the new Quasar shows up to help.  The cover of this issue shows Cap arranging characters on a chessboard, and sadly, that’s really all writer Nick Spencer has been doing in this book.  It’s a shocking contrast to the very exciting and nostalgia-steeped work he’s been doing on the sister Sam Wilson title.

Civil War II #8 – I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that the end of this rather unsatisfactory event is equally unsatisfactory.  Ulysses is off the table at the end of things, which is good, even if what happens to him contradicts what we’ve been seeing in Al Ewing’s Ultimates comics, and we kind of learn why Tony Stark hasn’t been around in all of the series that have moved past CWII in continuity, including the two Iron Man titles.  Beyond that, I’m not sure that this event added anything to the Marvel Universe, and the event fatigue is feeling pretty debilitating right now.  I don’t have the same level of dislike to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing that I often see online, but this sort of thing is really not a strength of his (despite the number of times he’s been given Marvel’s tentpoles to play with).  David Marquez’s art is lovely throughout, and the product placement style pin-ups that serve the double purpose of showing some of Ulysses’s visions and advertising upcoming events in the Marvel U, are often very nice.  I don’t know.  This was a thing.  Now it’s done.  How long until the next one is announced?

Clandestino #4 – Black Mask Comics is playing catch-up with its publishing schedule, having released a few very late comics lately.  Now a new issue of Clandestino, Amancay Nahuelpan’s exploration of a South American dictatorship.  This is a strange book; the title character doesn’t even appear, as a different group of rebels lead an attack on the central city trying to overthrow the military that has been in control for decades.  There’s a timeliness to this book which is odd, seeing as Nahuelpan wrote and drew most of it years ago.  As with most Black Mask comics, the storytelling could have used some more editorial shaping and oversight, but this is a curious book by someone who is sure to be a huge talent.

Deadly Class #25 – Anyone who’s been reading this title for a while knows that things can get pretty violent and brutal at a moment’s notice, but I wasn’t expecting it to get this violent so early into the new cast’s time in the spotlight.  Saya is attacked by her brother’s operatives, and her new crew have to defend her and themselves.  Wes Craig cuts loose even more than normal, delivering a number of very exciting and kinetic pages.  The end also took me completely by surprise.  I can’t imagine ever getting bored of this comic.

Deathstroke #9 – It was a nice surprise to see that Cary Nord drew this issue of Deathstroke, as many of Priest’s various plotlines proceed.  The main story is a flashback to the first time that Slade and Wintergreen worked together.  As always, I enjoy this book, but this issue felt a little disjointed.

Descender #17 – I finally got a copy of this (thanks Diamond) and it was worth the wait.  Jeff Lemire gives us an issue with very little dialogue, giving Dustin Nguyen lots of room to cut loose.  Tim is pursued by the other Tim robot, Telsa and Quon try to escape the robot terrorists who have been holding them, and stumble upon a big secret, and Andy and Effie make up for lost time.  Each of these three plotlines gets its own tier for most pages, and Nguyen employs different approaches to each one, as well as different shading.  It’s a good issue.

Detective Comics #947 – The Victim Syndicate storyline comes to its end, as Spoiler lives up to her name and does her best to shut down Batman’s new squad and convince him to stop being Batman.  That part’s a bit of a stretch, but I do like the way it causes Batman and Batwoman to reevaluate their mission a little.  I think I missed something in the last couple of pages, which check in with a certain character being held prisoner, as I don’t know who the person in the other cell is supposed to be, but to be honest, having this title tie into DC’s next big event is the last thing I want to see happen.  I like what James Tynion IV is doing with this comic, and would prefer to see it left alone.

East of West #30 – It seems like the Apocalypse is getting into full swing, to the pleasure of one of the Horsemen, as the Prophet’s army surround the Endless Nation.  The thing is, the Prophet is not what he used to be, in a new twist on Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s long-running series.  This title is the ultimate Hickman book, with years of planning beginning to come together.

Elephantmen #74 – I get it that Elephantmen is about former soldiers, who were bred for war, and are now living ‘normal’ lives among the general society.  It makes sense that many of these characters would suffer from various forms of PTSD, and that one aspect of PTSD is an inability to escape from certain moments and experiences, with sufferers living them over and over again and again.  That, however, after over seventy issues of a series, can get a little boring.  I really am no longer sure that Richard Starkings has a plan for this title, as he constantly circles back to former events (to really understand everything that happens in this issue, you’d have to go back to issue six), and while I appreciate the benefits of a fully realized world, I find lately that I’m not excited about new issues of this series.  I’ve taken it off my pull-list somewhere down the road, but as this book is perennially late, I might have already ordered a few more issues before my stop goes into effect.  It’s too bad, as I used to love this comic.

Generation Zero #5 – Gen Zero continues to prove itself to be one of the most entertaining books on the Valiant slate, as Keisha and the team confront the local police, who wear high-tech riot (sorry, rrriot) gear.  Some of the secrets of the town of Rook are exposed, and one of the team suffers some pretty serious injuries.  This title has gotten off to a very good start under Fred Van Lente’s control, and I look forward to seeing how this arc is going to end.

Rom #6 – The two new spaceknights have arrived on Earth, and they have different views on how they should be proceeding with annihilating the Wraith, which looks to be problematic for Rom’s one friend who is half-Wraith.  I’ve been enjoying the work that Christos Gage and Chris Ryall have been doing on this title, but worry that it’s moving a little too slowly.  The B-plot about a pair of GIJoes wanting to take Rom down has promise.  There’s a new artist this month, and while his work is fine, I wasn’t really all that impressed.

Savage #2 – I’m very impressed with this Valiant series.  B. Clay Moore splits events between the present, where the fifteen year old Savage is surviving on his own in what we learn is probably the Faraway (see back issues of Archer and Armstrong) while in the flashbacks, we learn what happened to his father, and see more of his childhood in this dinosaur-filled place.  Moore shows us that there are other people living in this place, and it left me with a feeling similar to the one I got when the Others showed up on Lost, a show this reminds me of (while surpassing it).  Lewis Larosa’s art in the modern day sequences is incredible, and Clayton Henry’s flashback sequences are perfectly fine.  I’m already sad that we are half-way through this series, because I want more.

Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse #3 – The first two issues of this mini didn’t do all that much for me, but this one finally feels like a proper episode of Firefly, as Simon and Inara go on a job, and of course things don’t go right.  I miss these characters.

Seven to Eternity #4 – We reach the end of the first arc, as our heroes travel across the countryside with their foe, the powerful and dangerous Mud King as their captive.  They’re able to keep him from using his abilities to contact his followers, but as this issue shows, that doesn’t make him any less formidable.  Adam, our main character’s, addition to the group leaves everyone uneasy, given his family’s reputation for betrayal.  I wasn’t immediately taken with Rick Remender’s story for this series, but now I’m very much hooked.  It’s a shame that the book won’t be published again until March, but seeing as Jerome Opeña’s art here is gorgeous, I don’t mind waiting.

Sex #34 – Apparently this is the last single issue of Sex, as after this, Joe Casey and Pitor Kowalski are switching to a trades-only format.  I’m pretty invested in this series, so I will most likely continue with it, but am not sure how I feel about that.  This book has always been pretty impressive, mostly for the variety of plotlines that run through it, and I’m worried that after six months or so, I’ll have no memory for what’s been going on.  At the same time, it might read a lot better in large batches.  I guess we’ll wait and see.  This is a very good series, and I’m pleased that it’s continuing in any format, as I know that sales haven’t been terrific.  People who like Batman should really check this series out.

Spider-Man #11 – So after a bunch of issues that basically just recapped the events of Civil War II, when that event is finally over, Bendis decides to give us a whole issue focusing on Jefferson, Miles Morales’s father.  I really like Miles, and I like the way Bendis writes him.  I am, however, very sick of these filler issues that don’t really go anywhere or accomplish anything.  Jefferson is tapped by SHIELD for a mission, but things aren’t what they see, and Bendis basically invalidates most of the issue by the end of it.  What a waste of a talent like Sara Pichelli.  Now this comic is heading into a crossover with Spider-Gwen.  I’m not sure we’re ever going to get to just see Miles do his thing again…

Spider-Woman #14 – This was a surprisingly emotional issue of Spider-Woman, as Jessica deals with a recent loss, and tries to process it through her usual less-than-helpful ways.  I’ve really enjoyed what Dennis Hopeless has done with this book, and love Veronica Fish’s art for it.  It’s a shame that this title is not getting more attention, as it’s one of the best that Marvel publishes.

Star Wars #26 – Seeing Rogue One the other day caused a spike in my desire to indulge in some Star Wars comics, and this first issue of a new arc fit the bill.  There’s a framing sequence involving R2D2 being the only being wanting to go save C3PO from the Stormtrooper squadron holding him, but it’s really just an excuse for Luke to dig into Ben Kenobi’s journals again.  The rest of the issue is given over to a Yoda story that is fine, but as it’s set in the pre-Phantom Menace era, doesn’t interest me all that much.  Salvador Larroca is a good artist for this title, now that he’s finished with Vader’s book, and I hope to see him complete more than one arc.  I feel like this title could do well with a more consistent look.

Wonder Woman #13 – I feel like my biggest problem with the modern-day issues of Wonder Woman is that I don’t really know who these people working against her are, or why.  A dazed and confused WW and Steve are trying to get home after Diana’s discovery of a couple issues ago, but instead they are pursued by some mercenary group I’m supposed to have heard of before (according to the narration).  It’s not a bad issue (although what happened to Liam Sharp?), but I’m having a hard time caring about this book.  I think it’s getting to the point where I’m going to have make a decision to continue with it or not…

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

All-Star Batman #5

Divinity III Komandar Bloodshot #1

Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #3

Extraordinary X-Men #17

Infamous Iron Man #3

Mighty Thor #14

Uncanny Avengers #18

Uncanny Inhumans #17

Witchfinder: City of the Dead #5 

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #11-21 & Clone Conspiracy #1&2 – I like to get caught up on Spidey every few months, and this was a pretty long run to read all at once.  Dan Slott (and Christos Gage) doe their usual good work, and I know that Slott has been building towards this Clone Conspiracy for a good long time, as it ties in elements from the Superior days, as well as Spider-Verse, but I still felt that the build up to it came off as a little rushed.  The death of a significant figure in Peter Parker’s life came a little too suddenly (as did knowledge of his illness) and lacked the emotional punch that even Marla Jameson’s did a couple of years ago.  That said, these are good comics.  The decision to make Amazing a secondary title during Clone Conspiracy is a weird one, as shown by sales of the event book, which are lower than that of the main title, neither of which stand alone, but it’s whatever.  There’s a lot to like in here, aside from the return of too many characters better left dead (I’m specifically thinking of a certain eight-armed individual).  At least the Jackal doesn’t look so stupid anymore.

Blue Beetle #1-3 – Here’s an example of a Rebirth title that I really wanted to like, but which is just not working for me.  I loved the first Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series, so when I saw that his original co-writer, Keith Giffen, was back with the character, I had high hopes, despite the fact that I’ve never been a big fan of artist Scott Kolins’s work (although The Pastaways softened me a little).  Those hopes didn’t quite make it through the Rebirth one-shot, but I wanted to give this book another chance.  I’m still disappointed.  Three issues in, and not a whole lot has happened aside from Jaime arguing a fair amount with Ted Kord.  I’d be okay with the decompressed pace of this title, except that Giffen’s dialogue is some of the most cringe-worthy I’ve ever read, especially when Jaime is talking to his friends.  It’s like he’s going for a Bendisian approach to the characters, but without Bendis’s ear for natural ebbs and flows of conversation.  I found myself having to reread pages to follow the story, and quickly losing interest.  I think I’m done with this one, although I’m a little curious to read the origin story promised in issue four…

Uncanny X-Men #10-15, Annual #1 – Continuing to look at titles that ultimately let me down, I have to say that I really don’t like what Cullen Bunn’s been doing in this book.  Too many issues are devoted to Psylocke explaining why she doesn’t trust Magneto, while at the same time, Monet absorbs her soul-eating brother and joins the Hellfire Club.  I have no problem with this book being about difficult moral choices in light of mutants’ worldwide precarious position, it just needs to be interesting at the same time.  Especially when you have to overcome the handicap of having Greg Land as your artist.  At least they brought Elixir back…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Art Ops Vol. 1 – I think that this volume of this relatively recent (and, I believe, already canceled) Vertigo series illustrates the problems at Vertigo perfectly.  To begin with, this is a series drawn by Michael Allred (while he’s also doing Silver Surfer, which is curious), so it should have a certain built-in fanbase to it.  Secondly, this series is built around an idea straight out of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol – art is alive, and the subjects of great paintings can exit their frames.  The thing is, this volume is a mess.  It’s not until about the fourth issue of the series that we get a clear idea of what is really going on here, after we spend a few issues piecing the big picture together ourselves.  Worst of all, I never actually started to care about any of these characters.  The concept is a good one, but under Shaun Simon’s pen, it really goes nowhere at all, and leaves me with no desire to pick up any subsequent volumes.  That’s how I feel about almost everything Vertigo does these days that isn’t The Sheriff of Babylon.

The Realist

by Asaf Hanuka

I’ve been a fan of both Asaf Hanuka and his twin brother Tomer for a while now, but had never read any of his strips done for the Calcalist, an Israeli newspaper.  For a number of years, beginning in 2010, Hanuka provided the paper with a weekly strip, consisting either (typically) of a nine-panel grid or a single splash page (although other formats were used).

The content of these strips, collected in The Realist in English for the first time, is very autobiographical.  Hanuka covers fatherhood, his rather turbulent relationship with his wife, their trips as a couple or a family, and what life is like in Tel Aviv for someone in the creative class.

Of course this book can get pretty political in places, but Hanuka rarely strays from looking at how things affect him.  When politics or conflict creep in, it’s because I imagine it touches everything in the country, and is inescapable.  Hanuka is careful to avoid expressing clear opinions on the major issues that Israel faces – its occupation of Palestinian territory, its apartheid policies, or the rise of fundamentalism within Israeli society.  Instead, we see how he goes about his days, and what effect all of these things have on him and his family.

Hanuka’s art is beautiful.  He employs a variety of styles here, depending on what kind of short story he’s trying to tell, or what point he wants to make, but every page is gorgeous.  It’s hard to imagine these pages in a newspaper.

This is an impressive book.