The Weekly Round-Up #370 With Batman #14, Moon Knight #10, Saga #41, The Walking Dead #162 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Batman #14 – Now this is really feeling like a Tom King comic.  His Sheriff of Babylon (one of the best books of 2016) collaborator Mitch Gerads stops by to draw this first chapter of the two-part Rooftops story.  Batman has arranged for Catwoman to be imprisoned for life at Blackgate, a much better deal than the death penalty and/or time at Arkham she was expecting, and she agrees, asking for one last night with him.  This issue tells the story of that night, as they go about the usual Bat-routine, stopping weirdo criminals (Kite-Man is practically a supporting character in this book now) before getting down to some real business.  The insight into and love of the characters in this issue is equal to what King demonstrated in his brilliant Vision series (another of the best of 2016), and has left me very happy that he’s on this title.  The start of his run was a little rocky, but I always felt that the influence of Scott Snyder and DC’s editorial team was responsible for that.  Now it feels like King is writing the book the way he wishes, and for a top title, it’s remarkably thoughtful and impressive.

Quick Takes:

The Autumnlands #14 – The second arc wraps up after a long delay between issues, and this is a big one.  Learoyd faces off against the woman that the inhabitants of the Autumnlands thinks is a goddess, and it’s all pretty explosive.  This issue raises way more questions than it answers, and I hope that the delay before the next arc isn’t a long one (but of course it will be, this is a Kurt Busiek independent book after all).

Black Science #27 – Anyone who has read a number of Rick Remender comics knows to keep an eye out for the eventual swerve in story-telling, but even when it comes, you don’t really expect it.  This issue, which has Pia fleeing from the alien parasites that are now coming to Earth after having infected one of her original group, introduces superheroes to the Black Science universe, when other lost cast members make their return.  This book is definitely never dull, or easy to predict.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #17 – I know I say something like this every time I read a new issue, but I just love the way Nick Spencer has shoved Mark Gruenwald’s classic Cap run into a blender already filled with printouts from FOX News, Breitbart, and Shaun King’s reporting for the New York Daily news, and puréed us this wonderful blend of superhero goodness.  This issue has the new Falcon and Rage turn up at a University lecture to mouth off at a female politician who has called Falcon out for not being American, only to end up having to protect her from the new Bombshells (!!!!!).  Spencer takes shots at both the anti-immigrant right and the trigger-warning adverse college left in this comic, and it’s all great.  This is some seriously well-balanced writing, with great art by Paul Renaud.  I don’t get why this isn’t one of Marvel’s top books.

Justice League of America: The Atom – Rebirth #1 – I really enjoyed the Ryan Choi version of the Atom when Gail Simone was writing his adventures, and am happy to see him returning in the upcoming Justice League of America.  This one-shot, by Steve Orlando and Andy MacDonald, does a great job of introducing the New 52/Rebirth version of the character, and contextualizing the couple of pages he was given in the Rebirth special.  I’m not sure how young Ryan is going to go from being Ray Palmer’s eager assistant to a full-fledged superhero, especially since I can’t figure out if Palmer was ever given that status (also, wasn’t he part of SHADE, Frankenstein’s super-science SHIELD thingy?), but regardless, this is an enjoyable issue.  I especially love the inclusion of a long-forgotten classic Suicide Squad character as Ryan’s roommate.  Orlando is a writer to watch.

Midnighter and Apollo #4 – Since they were introduced in Stormwatch by Warren Ellis, and through all the interesting writers who followed him with the Authority, Midnighter has always outshone Apollo in terms of story attention.  Steve Orlando is working to correct that a little in this issue, which still gives Midnighter the most interesting parts of the issue (as he fights against Mawzir), but which shows a deeper side to Apollo than we’ve seen before.  This is a good miniseries, although I wonder if it will be retconned away once Ellis returns to the Wildstorm characters in a couple of months.

Moon Knight #10 – Jeff Lemire and (now sole) artist Greg Smallwood dig into Marc Spector’s past with the start of this new arc, as we see the early evolution of Steve Grant and Jake Lockley, Marc’s other personalities.  As we look back, including at his first meeting with Khonshu, we also see him continuing to travel through the strange mindscape of the present.  I am really enjoying Lemire’s take on this character, and think the book looks brilliant.

Nightwing #12 – Dick’s time in Blüdhaven continues, as he ends up teaming up with the Run Offs, a group of D-list villains who have fled Gotham, in an attempt to clear the names of two of their members.  I’m enjoying this arc, but it’s not as impressive as this title was when it started.

Old Man Logan #16 – We basically get the start of two stories in this issue as Logan finds himself back in his ruined future, and then slowly starts to remember how he got there.  The story involves Brood, Puck from Alpha Flight, and the possibility of a fight with Kang over the Banner baby, but at the same time, feels very slight and quick.  It’s great seeing Andrea Sorrentino back on this comic providing art; he really is the reason why I buy this.

Saga #41 – There really are few comics that keep up the sense of momentum and strong character development that Saga has over the last few years.  This is another big issue as the Freelancer that’s been pursuing the family catches up to them, forcing a few people to take actions they’d rather not.  

Shade the Changing Girl #4 – Shade is starting to get more used to living on Earth, and is beginning to understand just how horrible the previous owner of her host body really was.  This was a solid middle of an arc issue; nothing spectacular, but it serves its purpose.

The Walking Dead #162 – Of course Robert Kirkman is going to wrap up his big The Whisperer War arc with a cliffhanger that is more exciting than anything that happened in this arc yet.  Really, this is a pretty quiet issue, as everyone assumes that they have won the war, although with this title, it’s when people start to feel good about things that we should all start to get nervous.  Good stuff, as always.

The Wicked + The Divine #25 – Everyone is still very much in a ‘figuring things out’ mode, as Persephone confronts Woden in the underground, and as Baal’s belief in the Great Darkness looks like it might carry some truth to it.  As always, this title is a great read; it’s the best thing Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have done together to date.

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

Before I get to this weeks list of books I left on the stands, I wanted to comment that you are likely to see this list grow quite a bit in the coming months.  Marvel’s announcement at the end of the week that they were discontinuing their practice of including a code to download the digital copy of the same comic is going to have a big effect on my purchasing habits.  I’ve stuck with a number of Marvel books that aren’t really worth $4 an issue in terms of their quality or content, because I’ve been subsidizing my purchasing by passing on the codes to some friends.  Without that method of balancing price, I am looking to drop the majority of my Marvel purchases.  Anyone who’s read this column for a while knows that I’m always writing about the ‘bargain books’ I’ve picked up, because I’m fortunate to live in a community well-serviced by a number of stores and comics shows, and have access to some very good sales over the course of the year.  My Marvel purchasing is going to be shifting to there aside from the essential comics.  It’s too bad, as I know that this is going to have an impact on the store I buy comics from, as well as at Marvel, where sales numbers have been declining for the mid-list books.  I hope they reverse this new policy quickly.

Avengers #3

Champions #4

Hawkeye #2

Nova #2

Rise of the Black Flame #5

Scarlet Witch #14

Superman #14

Unworthy Thor #3

USAvengers #1

World of Tanks #4

Bargain Comics:

Extraordinary X-Men #7-16 – When I dropped this title with issue six, I was a little surprised, as I think it marked the first time that I’d decided to not read a comic written by Jeff Lemire.  Making use of Boxing Day and Black Friday sales, I thought I should revisit that decision, only to learn I was right all along.  If I were to compare this to any other X-run, the best I could come up with is Peter Milligan’s X-Men, which is pretty universally reviled.  This has many of the same beats  – Apocalypse transforming yet another X-Men into a Horseman, creaky group dynamics (do we care that Forge is jealous that Storm likes Old Man Logan?), and overly decompressed plotting.  Really, hardly anything happens in these ten issues, except for some uninteresting time and dimension hopping.  Humberto Ramos was not a good fit for this book, and while I prefer his replacement, Victor Ibañez, I feel like the problem lies with Lemire, which is nuts because he’s usually so good.  Maybe he’s just stretched too thin between this, Bloodshot, Descender, Black Hammer, AD After Death, and the upcoming Royal City?  All of these projects are better than this.

Punisher #3-6 – This is another title that I dropped almost immediately, for reasons that still apply.  The thing is, since Steve Dillon has passed, I have been curious to see what his last issues looked like.  As always, Dillon is a master here, with a subtle understanding of facial expressions that show a lot of nuance.  The problem continues to be with Becky Cloonan’s writing, which is perfectly serviceable in telling a Punisher story that we’ve seen a hundred times before.  He’s looking to take down an organization called Condor which is selling some kind of designer drug that makes people crazy.  Even with an attempt to connect Condor to Frank’s time in Iraq (because I guess he’s not a Vietnam vet anymore), everything feels very superficial.  Cloonan’s a much better writer on her Southern Cross series.  This remains a disappointment, albeit an attractive one.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker

Written by Julian Voloj
Art by Claudia Ahlering

It wasn’t all that long ago that I watched Rubble Kings, the excellent documentary about the 70s Bronx street gang the Ghetto Brothers.  It explained the backstory behind the excellent Truth & Soul rerelease of the Ghetto Brothers album, which I enjoyed a great deal.  When I saw this graphic novel, there was no way I could resist it.This book tells us the story of Benjy Melendez, a co-founder and leader of the street gang which eventually negotiated a truce with all of the other Bronx gangs, and ushered in a short-lived period of relative peace, quiet, and social organization in one of New York’s worst neighbourhoods during a time of great upheaval.  For the most part, there’s not a lot here that you wouldn’t already know from the documentary, except for a couple of facets that shine a little brighter here.

One is the focus, both in the story and in the introduction and backmatter, on how the truce Benjy initiated paved the way for the birth of hiphop.  It’s hard to read this now and not think about the Netflix series The Get Down, which is set in the same era.

Another thing that was new to me was the way in which the story focuses, towards the end, on Benjy’s learning about his Puerto Rican family’s Jewish roots, and how learning about his roots helps centre him and give him direction in life.

The book is narrated from Benjy’s perspective, and while writer Julian Voloj did meet with him extensively in preparing to write this story, he does note that there are some places where he altered details to improve the narrative flow, which is unfortunate.  I’d rather be able to trust this as a straight biography.

Claudia Ahlering’s drawings are often too cramped to really enjoy, and I wonder if this was originally designed for a European-sized format, and was later shrunk to this version, which is smaller than a standard comic book.  It does make it hard to recognize characters in some places.

This is a decent book that helps bring more light to a fascinating story.  We need more people like Benjy, who are resistant to the narrative that the world wants to write for them, and who puts other people first.

Noble Causes Vol. 7: Powerless – Jay Faerber’s writing in this series really makes up for the uninspired artwork.  Race has lost his powers, leading to him making some desperate moves, while his brother Rusty works to discover the truth behind his discovery that his girlfriend is a robot.  Faerber’s superhero soap opera stays entertaining, although it threw me that when Liz gets lost in time for a bit, her goal is 2006.  Time just keeps getting faster and faster…