The Weekly Round-Up #403 With Letter 44 #35, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Annual #1, Saucer State #3, War Mother #1 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Letter 44 #35 – Letter 44 has been one of my favourite comics of the last few years.  In it, Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque have told the story of Stephen Blades’s presidency.  In the opening issue, he learned that the neo-conservative actions of his predecessor, plunging the US into expensive and unwinnable wars, the housing and credit crisis, and other problems, were all cover for the fact that he funded and launched a mission into the stars to make first contact with aliens who were building something at the edge of the solar system.  From that point, this book split itself, more or less evenly, between the hard science fiction story of those astronauts, and the soft science fiction political story, as Blades had to decide how to do things differently than the guy before him.  This book has been very well thought-out, full of great character development, and has always had a few things to say about how we do things in our world.  There were numerous twists along the way that I never saw coming, and now, with this issue, an emotionally satisfying conclusion that I don’t want to talk about here, except to say that I thought it hit all the right notes.  This is a book that more people should have been reading, and that I encourage you to check out (if you weren’t reading it already).  It has a lot going for it, including a portrayal of a functioning, inspiring President, something that has become fiction in the years since this series began.  I’m really going to miss this book…

Quick Takes:

Black Hammer #12 – I’m not sure if things are okay with regular series artist Dean Ormston or not.  This is the second issue in the last little while to feature guest artist David Rubín, who is a fine artist, which also means it’s the second recent issue to be all flashback.  We watch Lucy grow up in this issue, missing her father and upset that she’s not able to tell people what a great hero he was.  It’s a good issue, but it’s the ones that are set in the present that I like the most.  I know this title is going on a hiatus soon, and there will be a miniseries that will help develop the world these characters lived in, also by Rubín.  I look forward to it, but I look forward to the main title advancing its plot more.  It’s a nice touch that Jeff Lemire named the science-based hero Dr. Star after James Robinson.

Daredevil #25 – Matt Murdock argues in front of the Supreme Court this issue, and Charles Soule and Alec Morgan borrow a page from Sex Criminals, staging his oral argument like a superhero fight.  It’s pretty awesome.  The rest of the issue is interesting, and I wonder if other writers are going to pick up and run with what is effectively a new approach to crime fighters and local authorities working together.

Dept. H #17 – As the crew recharge their subs and get ready to make their move to the surface, the focus finally falls on Lily, as we learn why she’s done of the things she’s done in her life, including betraying her best friend and shacking up with his father.  She’s a complex character, and so much of this series relies on subtleties that are not always clear on the first read, or until months later.  That’s what makes all of Matt Kindt’s series so good, and so rewarding.

Detective Comics #963 – James Tynion IV has been joined by Christopher Sebela, who is scripting and co-plotting, I notice.  Is that just for this issue, or is that going to be the status quo for this book now?  Anarky and Spoiler are back, although it’s not clear just what they’re up to, and the weird Monster Town part of Gotham is revisited again.  This was an alright issue, but it felt like a placeholder between storylines, a little.

Doctor Aphra Annual #1 – After being a minor character in Marvel’s Star Wars titles for a while, we get a story that focuses on Black Krrsantan, Dr. Aphra’s wookie companion/enforcer.  It’s a solid issue, with some nice art by Marc Laming.  Of course, Krrsantan meeting with some journalists to discuss his backstory is really just cover for Aphra to do something else, but that’s to be expected in this series, right?

Doctor Strange #24 – Strange and his companions take their fight to Baron Mordo this issue, in an attempt to regain control of Strange’s home and hopefully release Manhattan from the Darkforce dome that has kept it out of the Secret Empire story.  This issue would probably have been more effective had it come out before Secret Empire #8, but whatever.  Dennis Hopeless has fun with this issue, and Nico Henrichon’s art remains luminous.  

The Dying & The Dead #5 – This entire issue is given over to a flashback to 1945, as the group of American soldiers we’ve been following make their insertion into Japan and encounter some resistance.  It’s basically a smaller scale Saving Private Ryan opening.  Ryan Bodenheim’s art is gorgeous, but after so many delays and flashbacks, I don’t really remember what this series is about anymore.  I thought it funny that the end of the issue contains preview images from the next three issues – it’s like Jonathan Hickman and Bodenheim just want to convince us that there are still more issues to come some day, and that they are working on them.

Eternal Empire #4 – Our heroes continue their journey to what they think might be the only place where they’ll be safe, but along the way, they see that the Empire’s control is growing.  When they see some regular people being taken, and families separated, they have to decide if they should use their powers to help or continue to look out for themselves.  Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn are taking a pretty decompressed approach to this series, but it affords them a lot of time and space to develop these two characters, and this book really holds my attention.

Iceman #4 – I’m continuing to enjoy this title, and especially Sina Grace’s writing.  In an effort to protect one of the Xavier School students, Bobby ends up getting into a fight with Daken.  It’s a bit of a sparse issue, but it works.

Lazarus X+66 #2 – The spotlight is on Joacquim Morray this month.  Joacquim, much like his friend Forever who he recently betrayed, is not really trusted by his family anymore, and so we learn a lot of his backstory, and see just what is happening behind the scenes in this family.  This is a competent issue, but it didn’t leave me as excited as the regular series usually does.

Renato Jones Season 2: Freelancer #3 – Kaare Andrews is really leaning into his portrayal of a Presidency owned by the 1%, while he also has Renato make some hard decisions about how he’s going to approach his mission.  This volume, or season, does not seem as focused as the first one, but I do like the way that Andrews pokes at the Trump administration.

Saucer State #3 – I know that Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly were always planning on returning to this story after their first run at Vertigo was canceled, but I wonder how much recent politics has caused them to change this book.  They definitely didn’t have Adam Dunfries, a familiar looking, orange-tinged challenger to the President, in their original plan, and we are all the richer for the delay between that first run and this one.  The aliens are getting closer to Earth, and the President is getting closer to finding out who knows what.  It’s very weird that this book came out the same week as the last issue of Letter 44, since they are so similar, and yet so different.

Secret Empire #9 – I usually get more and more annoyed with big events, blockbuster movies, and TV series as they get closer and closer to their big conclusions.  That’s not the case here, where Secret Empire is getting better and more focused as it gets nearer to its big finish.  In this issue, every character and plot thread converges on Washington DC, as the heroes make their final stand against Hydra, but they seem to have more and more aces up their sleeve too.  It’s an exciting issue, and it’s nice to see so many of the big heroes acting like heroes again.  Yes, everything is totally predictable, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad.

War Mother #1 – Valiant finally returns to the character that they debuted during their 4001AD event, War Mother.  Ana is now the leader of a settlement of humans whose home is dying (having something to do with her having killed their previous leader in her 4001AD one-shot).  Now she has a lead on a potential new home, and goes to scout it.  I think this book is an odd choice for Valiant to launch – it’s unconnected to their other titles, and features a new character.  At the same time, I’ve learned to buy anything that Fred Van Lente writes, so I’ll be giving this a good chance.  The first issue is fine, and has a wonderful David Mack cover, but I don’t see how this is going to last any longer than Generation Zero did.

X-O Manowar #6 – Things keep getting worse on Aric’s new planet, as a mysterious monolith devastates one faction’s lands, and Aric begins to probe for a connection between it and his supposed allies.  I continue to enjoy this book, and am curious to see where the next three-part arc is headed.

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

Cable #4

Edge of Venomverse #5 (I didn’t know James Stokoe drew this!)

Few TP

Generation Gone #2

Generations: Unworthy Thor & Mighty Thor #1

Shirtless Bear-Fighter #3

Snowfall TP

Weapon X #7

X-Men Gold #10

Bargain Comics:

Chip Zdarsky’s Monster Cops – I recently came across this gem from 2006, which collects four short pieces by Zdarsky featuring his Monster Cops – Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman, who have joined the Metroville PD in an attempt to gain atonement for their pasts.  Zdarsky is as funny as we’ve expect him to be, as his cops face prejudice on the force, school Vampirella on appropriate dress and reading, and deal with their own issues.  I liked this book a lot, and wonder if, now that Zdarsky is a big Spider-Man writing, Sex Criminal drawing BIG DEAL, this book has become insanely valuable.  My copy is signed, you know…

Cognetic #1-3 – James Tynion IV is a writer whose name has become very well known in the last few years, and while I’ve liked most of his DC work, it is his independent stuff that has impressed me the most.  I love The Woods, his ongoing series at Boom!, but was also very impressed with Memetic, the miniseries he did with artist Eryk Donovan.  Cognetic is a thematic sequel to that series, telling the story of a strange being with the ability to take over the minds of any people around him.  He makes his way to the Empire State Building to put a plan into action.  It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the surprise at the end of the issue, but Tynion has put together a very good story about the end of the world, that questions the value of free thought and individual action.  It’s a very good read, and Donovan’s art is very nice.

Doctor Strange #18&19 – I do like the way Jason Aaron has added the layer of Stephen Strange having to always pay some sort of physical consequence for the act of magic, and how he’s had him confront the workarounds he attempted to put into place.  I also like the way Chris Bachalo has gone totally nuts in redesigning Strange’s home.  Their run, of which I still have one more issue to read, was pretty decent.

Elephantmen #76 – I’ve dropped this book, but am still interested in it, although this issue, which focuses on Trench, doesn’t add much.  I still believe the Richard Starkings has run out of things to say with this comic, and is just spinning his wheels, hopefully not until issue one hundred.

Hawkeye #3 – It’s been a while since I read the first two issues of this book, but it’s fun and enjoyable still.  It is still being published, right?

Inhumans Prime #1 – Marvel stays determined to make the Inhumans a big deal, and have recently relaunched their line.  This book marks Al Ewing’s takeover, and wraps up some of the storylines from Charles Soule’s run (finally getting rid of Maximus for a while, which is always good news), and dismantling the Inhumans monarchy.  This is a decent issue, and I like the inclusion of Noh-Varr to make things a little more interesting.  Let’s see how Royals is now…

Jessica Jones #8 – It’s kind of weird that Brian Michael Bendis has never been given a Maria Hill series, isn’t it?  It’s clear that she’s probably the character he’s created that he loves the most (okay, maybe that’s actually Miles), yet he just keeps writing her into his books, instead of giving her one of her own.  She’s definitely the star of this issue.

Kingpin #3 – This Kingpin miniseries has turned out to be a real unexpected pleasure.  Matthew Rosenberg’s writing here is as good as it is on his Black Mask series, making me wonder if I shouldn’t be checking out his other Marvel work.  I really like the journalist at the centre of this series, even if she does remind me a lot of the one Marvel used to trot out for their Frontline minis during every big event (and who recently showed up in Steve Rogers’s book).

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #6 – What a shame that the promised Silver Age series, the first new Miracleman work in like twenty years, that was solicited and supposed to have started months ago, has still not come out.  This issue, the last of the Golden Age issues that I had to read, got buried in a pile where I just found it, and once again, I am left thinking that this might be one of Gaiman’s best works, much clearer and profound than even Sandman, in a lot of ways.  Also, I loved the era where Mark Buckingham was less cartoony than his later Fables work.  I was surprised to come across a talking badger named Brock here…

Nova #4&5 – Jeff Loveness and Ramon Pérez have been doing great work with the Marvel Universe’s two main Novas.  I like the way they incorporate a legacy feel into the book, and keep some humour around Sam, while also putting Rich in some tough situations.  This has been canceled already, hasn’t it?

Royals #1&2 – This series gets off to a great start, as Medusa takes a group of Inhumans into space to find some secrets, and Ewing shows his usual skill in orchestrating a book with a fair sized cast.  I’m not sure that I like Jonboy Meyer’s art on this, but I also think he’s already off this title, which makes it a little more appealing to me.

Unworthy Thor #5 – I think, for all the weight it has held in terms of replacing the original Thor with the Jane Foster version, and sending Odinson into the depths of despair, the reality of what Nick Fury told him which caused all this change is a little unimpressive.  This miniseries, while enjoyable, felt like it was a bit of a mandated placeholder, keeping Odinson in the world, while not having him do too much.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Dynamo 5 Vol. 4: Change or Die – Once again, Jay Faerber delivers a very capable superhero comic, with the team going through a very big change at the end.  This is a good series, and I’m sad that neither it nor Noble Causes is around anymore.  I didn’t support these books when they were first being published, but I wish I had.  Of course, the great thing about comics is that there’s always more great stuff you haven’t read yet than there is being published any given week.

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 1: The Last Padawan – When Marvel launched their Star Wars line, Kanan’s book was the only one I didn’t read, because at that point, I’d never seen an episode of the Rebels TV show, and had no idea who he, or writer Greg Weisman, were.  Since then, I’ve checked out and enjoyed the show (I am a Star Wars fan almost from birth), and therefore like the way this book fills in and fleshes out Kanan’s character and backstory.  We see what happened to him when Order 66, the order to kill all Jedi, was given, and how he survived, before jumping the story into the Rebels era.  It’s very well written, and has nice art from Pepe Larraz.