The Weekly Round-Up #447 & #448 With Kill Or Be Killed #20, Star Wars #50, Harbinger Wars 2 #2, Batman #50, Captain America #1, Saga #53 & More

Sorry for not having a column last week; I had an incredibly busy week, and then left town for a while, which meant I had a lot of comics to catch up on when I got back.

Best Comics of the Two Weeks:

Kill Or Be Killed #20 – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s latest series ends, and they once again prove why they are the best duo in comics right now.  It’s almost impossible to talk about this issue without spoiling the ending, but I will say that Brubaker wraps up the story very well, and includes a couple of swerves, one of which I predicted at the last second, and also gets a little meta as Dylan wraps up his narration.  This was a great series about mental health, the desire to fix the world, family relationships and the ways in which they can mess you up for life, and also about resiliency and the need to find ways to make everything work. It was often unexpected, and always entertaining. Like with Sleeper, Criminal, The Fade Out, and everything else these two creators have done together, the book got stronger as it proceeded, and when it came to its end, I really found myself feeling for the characters.  This is perhaps their best work (although I’ll probably change my mind after I read their next project, an OGN coming in October).

Star Wars #50 – The Rebel Alliance is now the strongest it’s ever been, thanks to the assistance of Queen Trios, a character Kieron Gillen first created in his Darth Vader series.  The thing is, maybe Trios can’t actually be trusted. I’ve liked Gillen’s run on this title a great deal, as it is very focused on the way in which the Rebellion grows and changes between episodes 4 and 5.  Salvador Larroca is a great artist for this book. I’m not sure that this issue should have cost $6 though…

Quick Takes:

Astonishing X-Men #13 – I like that Matthew Rosenberg, who has been popping up all over the Marvel Universe, finally gets his own X-Men title, even if he has to work with Greg Land to do it.  This is basically a first issue, as Havok decides to return to the X-Men and put together his own squad, although it seems that absolutely no one wants that to happen. The last I saw Alex, half of his face was deformed, and he was evil (because of the terrible Axis event).  It’s not explained why he’s “good” again, or good looking, but maybe that has happened in some book I didn’t read. Anyway, he’s rebuked by Kitty Pryde, and heads to Harvard where Beast is now a professor (I didn’t know about that either), where they get attacked by the Reavers.  This run is off to a good start, as Rosenberg balances humor into a more typical X-Men approach, and shines the spotlight on some characters that I have always liked. Dazzler, Warpath, and Colossus are all on the cover but not in the comic; I hope it doesn’t take a full six issues to assemble the team.  

Batman #50 – We’ve spent forever building up to this wedding, and now that the big day arrives, I feel like I can’t really talk about it without spoiling things (which is, in itself, a bit of a spoiler).  Tom King gives us another issue designed around its structure, as the Bat and the Cat write one another letters which both discuss their eyes, and their different memories of their first meeting. Those letters are illustrated by a wide array of Bat-related artists, including some greats, and some from more recent days whose runs won’t end up being all that memorable (yes, I’m talking about you Tony Daniel).  I felt quite keenly the lack of a Darwyn Cooke page. The rest of the issue is about the wedding preparations, as they impulsively decide to do it one one particular day, and have to gather their witnesses and whatever. It’s a good issue, although I found most of the events in it to be completely predictable. I’m very close to being done with King’s Batman – I often like it, but it feels like it keeps repeating itself, and with the price on the book going up, I don’t think I can be bothered with it anymore, even though I’m looking forward to reading the next issue (I’m not sure how much longer I’ve preordered it for).

Black Panther #2 – While there is a lot about this relaunched Black Panther that I don’t understand, I think I’m prepared to just go with it.  Somewhere far into the future, a massive Wakandan Empire is being run across five conquered galaxies, by N’Jadaka, while a small group of Maroons, run by N’Yami, is working to abolish slavery and put an end to Wakanda’s other misdeeds.  Basically, Ta-Nehisi Coates is giving us an Afro-futurist version of Star Wars, with an amnesiac T’Challa (our T’Challa, or someone who has just taken his mantle) displaying incredible piloting skills. So, as much as I’d rather be reading about modern-day T’Challa than this Elseworlds version, I can’t deny that Coates and artist Daniel Acuña have given us a pretty exciting comic here, hitting all the notes that I’d hope for in a Star Wars comic.  There’s a great starfighter battle, and N’Jadaka does his best Darth Vader (while wearing the Priest-era Panther habit). I’m perplexed, annoyed, and love it all at the same time. Coates has definitely become a lot more dynamic in his writing, and has learned to let an artist like Acuña do the heavy lifting.

Captain America #1 – I actually thought that this issue might be written by Nick Spencer, and not Ta-Nehisi Coates.  It avoids the wordiness of Coates’s Panther, and acknowledges the events of both Spencer’s and Rick Remender’s runs with Cap and his people, something that is increasingly rare in comics.  Cap is painfully aware of how little trust the company places in him after the Secret Invasion, and now that SHIELD is gone, he is finding it even hard to communicate with the American government (and its new, as-yet nameless President).  General Ross is representing the government in this book, and he’s more than happy to work with Sharon Carter and the Winter Soldier, who appear to round out the cast here. I think it’s interesting that Coates is going with a villain who traditionally just bothers mutants, and I’m curious to see where he takes this series.  It is definitely time, in the wake of Secret Empire, but also in the wake of increased American nationalism and emboldened white supremacy in the real world, to take a good look at what role a character like Captain America serves in the world. I think Coates is the writer to do it, and I’m pleased to see him paired with a crowd-pleasing artist like Leinil Francis Yu.

Death or Glory #3 – Rick Remender’s latest series, featuring art by the terrific Bengal, is a really strange thing.  On the one hand, it’s an adventure comic about a young woman who has lived her life off the grid and now needs to figure out how to help her ailing father, but on the other, it’s about organ trafficking, homicidal Amish sisters, death by liquid nitrogen, and chiles going up people’s anuses.  At first, I thought that this was going to be a pretty realistic book, but Remende and Bengal are taking into some weirdly excessive places. I’m not sure that Remender has other done a “real world” kind of book, and this is not going to be it. It’s still very entertaining, and this third issue does a great job of summarizing Glory’s life story and catching the reader up on any details he or she may have missed or overlooked.

Deathstroke #33 – Damian enters into the mix, as the question of his parentage continues to be explored, and as he, Slade, and Batman continue to try to manipulate one another in a very complex plot that can only be written by Priest.  I loved seeing Nightshade show up for a bit (although I have no idea who she is in the New 52/Rebirth DCU), and would be very happy to see Priest write a Damian series. I’m still a little annoyed that this storyline is happening more or less outside of continuity (or, at least, about a year ago), as I feel it would carry more weight if it had possible repercussions for Slade or the Bat-family.  Still, this is very good stuff.

Descender #31 – I hadn’t realized that there was only going to be one more issue of this series (a lot of my favourite Image books are ending it seems), and I think that Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen have left themselves with a lot to do yet.  Everyone is converging in one big battle – the Gnishians have Driller and his friend with them, while Andy takes Tim’s size, and Telsa has to make some decisions about what she really believes in. And then the Descenders show up with their Harvesters.  This was a big issue, and everything hangs in the balance now.

Detective Comics #983 – Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to check out Bryan Hill’s first issue on Detective Comics.  Hill doesn’t so much pick up where James Tynion’s terrific run left off, as return to its basic premise and start over again. He has Batman recruiting Black Lightning to help train (he emphasises the teaching over the training) a new team, which the comic suggests will include Orphan and The Signal.  At the same time, there is a mysterious villain who knows Batman’s identity going around trying to kill those same heroes, claiming that their inclusion in Batman’s world makes him weaker. So, basically, Black Lightning is Batwoman, and this villain is the First Victim, all over again. I’m fine with that, had this issue actually acknowledged that Batman just worked with a team, and disbanded them.  Anyway, it’s a good, well-paced comic, and it looks nice enough. I think I’m interested enough to pick up the next issue, but once the price jumps to $3.99, I don’t see myself sticking around for this. I’m also confused to see that James Robinson is writing an arc starting in September – I don’t know if Hill be returning after that, or if his run is only going to last through the summer. DC needs to do a better job of clarifying its long-term intentions with this book.

Doctor Aphra #21 – Aphra’s stuck in a very strange Imperial prison, but uses her powers of manipulation to get Tolvan to come rescue her.  At the same time, the Rebel Alliance has hired Sana Starros to go get her, and it looks like everything is set to converge in a lot of mayhem.  Simon Spurrier is doing well with Aphra’s character, staying true to the way Kieron Gillen developed her. This book remains a lot of fun to read, and I’m really happy to see Kev Walker back on the art.

Harbinger Wars 2 #2 – I’m still struggling with understanding what the purpose of this series really is.  Peter Stanchek has been absent from Valiant’s publishing line for so long it’s hard to care about what he’s been up to, and the level of crisis that Livewire is dealing with feels more manufactured than one caused by the Trump administration.  It just feels like an event for an event’s sake, and well beneath what we should be getting from a writer like Matt Kindt. I keep hoping that something will make this more momentous (like maybe showing us what Toyo Harada’s been up to), but we’re halfway in, and that doesn’t look likely.  I do like seeing Ninjak make a reference to Mind Management though, reminding me that I’d much rather be reading one of Kindt’s creator-owned books.

Last Song #2 – It’s been ages since the first issue of this Black Mask series came out, but it was really worth the wait.  Holly Interlandi and Sally Cantirino are giving us a huge chunk of comics with each issue, and it’s pretty great. Last Song is about Nicky and Drey, friends from childhood whose band, Ecstasy, has hit it big in the early 90s.  Nicky is lost though – the fame that he thought he wanted is not satisfying, and he can’t seem to find happiness in drugs or sex. Interlandi works at making more obvious something that I suspected back in the first issue, leading to Nicky figuring himself out as this issue ends.  One thing I liked about this issue is the way in which we get an interlude about a girl who is a fan of the band, and how she turns her brother on to their music. There are a couple of scenes that play out kind of awkwardly, but for the most part, this is a very well put-together comic, of a type we don’t see much of anymore.

Marvel 2-In-One #7 – We finally learn what Rachna, the scientist who has been supposedly helping Ben and Johnny, has really been up to as she leads them from planet to planet, when they land in a dimension where Spider-Man basically runs Thunderdome.  It’s another very well-written issue, with great art by Ramon Pérez (who is now on the book?). I still feel like I’d rather have this title than Dan Slott’s FF, and wish Marvel had just left things like this, although I don’t know how long it would take for Johnny to keep looking for his family before he figures out what’s going on…

Multiple Man #1 – Matthew Rosenberg brings back Jamie Madrox, and with him, all the craziness that usually comes with his character.  We get some time travel, a whole bunch of characters from the future, and other wacky things going on involving the X-Men. Rosenberg is carving out a role for himself in the Marvel Universe, which I enjoy.  It looks like he’s building on Peter David’s work with Jamie’s character, but also taking him in is his own direction. This should be a decent series.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #36 – The end of the Invasion arc is a big deal, as Kyle exhibits some new abilities in a confrontation with Roland and his people, and as some new characters on both sides of the conflict enter the picture.  This series ran on a slow burn for a very long time, but now things are all kinds of exciting. The book is going on a hiatus until December, which is a shame, but is good if it helps fix scheduling issues.

Paper Girls #22 – The girls have gone far into the future now, where they discover that some old friends might still be around.  This is another title that feels like it might be moving closer to a conclusion, although there are still a lot of things for the girls to learn first.  As always, this book is a pleasure to read.

Prism Stalker #5 – While still a very impressive comic, I feel like as Vep continues her training, the scope of this story is becoming both more focused, and a lot smaller.  Vep is unsure of the changes she is seeing in herself, as she almost kills a classmate, and as she continues to have trouble making any kind of meaningful connection with the beings around her.  Sloane Leong’s vision for this title is very unique, and sometimes confusing, but also rewarding.

Saga #53 – This title has gotten awfully bloody of late, as a couple of characters and a big newspaper story all get killed.  It feels like almost everyone’s story is converging in this series lately, but unlike in other titles when that happens, I don’t get the impression that Saga is coming anywhere close to finishing (although I could be wrong – it just seems unlikely).  This continues to be one of the most consistently impressive and unpredictable titles being put out.

Sex Criminals #25 – Another arc comes to its end as our ever-growing cast of characters has to decide whether or not they should trust Myrtle Spurge, aka Kegelface.  Apparently the next arc of the series is going to be the last one, and I think that the timing for that might be right. It’s been a long road for this book, and lately it seems to be meandering all over the place, with a few too many unresolved plotlines just lying around.  It’s still incredibly entertaining and each issue has a few completely unexpected moments, but it’s also not as focused as it used to be.

Shadow Roads #1 – Had I known that the first issue of this new series was identical to the Free Comic Book Day edition, I never would have bought this one.  At the same time, I’m excited to see Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt return to the world of The Sixth Gun, with artist AC Zamudio, and I don’t mind supporting it financially.  Still, it would have been nice to know that ahead of time…

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #36 – A new player comes onto the scene – Love, a hippie samurai, who is hiding Rose, Joey, and Vic from Spanish Scott.  The problem is, Scott knows he’s got them, so he has to return to his violent ways to keep them safe. This is a pretty violent issue, but that’s to be expected in this series, which reaches the thousand page mark this month.  Love reminds me a bit of the great movie character Ghost Dog, which is kind of cool.

Submerged #1 – I liked Vita Ayala’s writing on The Wild at Black Mask, and have noticed that Vault Comics is starting to look like an interesting publisher, so I took a chance on this.  A young woman is looking for her younger brother, who is a screw-up that she has spent most of her life protecting, on the same night that Hurricane Sandy is about to hit New York. She ends up following his trail into the subways, which have been closed, and are now shifting into some sort of mythological space, where homeless men and subway conductors are really symbols of other things.  There have been a lot of comics like this lately – Her Infernal Descent being the most recent, but Ayala does a fine job of making the character compelling. Lisa Sterle’s art is pretty nice – she makes the stations and tunnels full of dread. I’m on the fence about getting the next issue of this series…

Sword Daughter #2 – I didn’t realize that every issue of this series was going to be oversized (and overpriced), but when I see the amount of space that gives Brian Wood to develop and tell his story, which is also geographically sparse, it all makes a lot of sense and makes me happy.  His two main characters are going after the people who destroyed their family, and that involves sailing to the Shetlands, where they get involved in some local killings. Wood excels at stories set in the viking period, and artist Mack Chater is a great collaborator for him. This series makes me happy.

The Walking Dead #181 – As Rick gives the Governor a tour of the land he controls, from Alexandria to the sea, we get to know Princess a little better, and see a side of the Governor that makes us wonder just what she’s up to.  This was a nice issue, with a good herd scene like we haven’t seen for a while.

The Wicked + The Divine #37 – Is it weird that I both still enjoy this series, and am completely ready for it to come to its end?  Baphomet and the Morrigan (or is it Babd?) work out their relationship issues, while it looks like something is going to happen with the living heads (which, if you aren’t caught up on this series, I shouldn’t talk about).  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie do great work on this series, but I’m finding myself less and less drawn to it, for reasons I don’t understand.

X-O Manowar #16 – We’re back in Aric’s past again, as we see him work with some Romans to fight off the Huns, as a mysterious African’s story continues, and intersects with Aric’s.  I liked the last issue, but I’m tired of writers always going back to Aric’s days in Ancient Rome – he wasn’t that old when the Vine kidnapped him, yet it seems like a whole lot happened to him.  The problem is, all those life experiences are remarkably similar.

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

Avengers #4

Catwoman #1

Death of the Inhumans #1

Doctor Strange #3

Hunt for Wolverine Mystery in Madripoor #2

Hunt for Wolverine Weapon Lost #3

Immortal Hulk #2

Moon Knight #196

Ms. Marvel #31

Old Man Logan #42

Quantum Age: From the World of Black Hammer #1

Thief of Thieves #38

Thor #2

Über Invasion #14

Weapon X #20

X-Men Blue #30

X-Men Gold #31

Bargain Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #29-33 – The end of this storied anthology series must have come a little unexpectedly, as some of its serials (like Finder, the main reason I ever bought these comics) didn’t conclude, and a couple of others began in the last issue.  Sometimes Dark Horse makes it very hard to trust them…

Ms. Marvel #28&29 – Kamala returns to Jersey City, as does Bruno in these two issues that continue to showcase why G. Willow Wilson is consistently one of the best character-driven writers around.  The villains in this series are always kind of goofy, but it’s the interactions between characters that make this such a worthwhile title.

Nick Fury #2 – I’m way behind on this James Robinson/ACO series from over a year ago.  I don’t like Nick Jr. as a character all that much, but am always down for ACO doing his best Steranko as Fury fights Yakuza on the moon.  It’s a fun, gorgeous issue.

Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #300 – It’s a big anniversary issue that has Spidey and an assembled group of friends taking on the Tinkerer and the spy organization that has been after Spidey’s fake sister.  I’d expected the story to wrap up in this issue, but it doesn’t; instead we get the start of a lengthy-looking time travel arc, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m incredibly sick and tired of time travel these days.

The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign #1-4 – Geof Darrow is indisputably a genius, and his Shaolin Cowboy is sometimes his masterpiece, and other times very frustrating.  This miniseries from 2017 is mostly the former, as Darrow has his rarely-speaking hero face off against a gigantic pig, a crab wearing a woman like a puppet, some dogs with knives for front paws, and a bunch of people he’s wronged.  It’s four issues of insane fights, weird storefronts, and art so detailed you can’t begin to imagine how he fit it all in there. It’s great stuff, if emotionally a little empty.

Star Wars: Lando – Double or Nothing #1&2 – I had a feeling like I might want to pass on this new miniseries, and it seems like my instincts were correct.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with the way this series starts, it just feels way too familiar. Young, Donald Glover Lando is going about his usual narcissistic stuff, and ends up getting embroiled in someone else’s problems, as that’s the only kind of thing that Lucasfilm is likely to allow.  Just once, I’d like to see a deeper character study take place, as comics provide an opportunity for us to learn a lot more about these secondary characters. Rodney Barnes does a fine job with the scripting, and Paolo Villanelli’s art also seems to be completely serviceable. I’m missing the days when a new Marvel Star Wars book felt like an event though…

Star Wars: Rogue One – Cassian & K-2SO Special #1 – I know that this book is a year old, and I find it strange that it’s the only comic still that’s featured Rogue One characters (aside from Benthic showing up in the parent Star Wars title).  That film gave us some interesting ones to dig into, but maybe that’s all happening in the novels, which probably make Lucasfilms more money. Anyway, this is a perfectly serviceable story about how Cassian got his droid buddy. Duane Swierczynski, who I’m not particularly a fan of, does a fine job of capturing the characters’ voices.

Star Wars: Thrawn #1-5 – I only know of Thrawn from the Rebels TV show, and so was a little interested to learn his backstory, which I guess was originally told in a novel by Timothy Zahn.  Jody Houser adapts the story into comics, and with Luke Ross, gives us a series that is really pretty dull. It’s all about how Thrawn advances through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, partway through taking unique risks, and partly through politics.  Ross’s art looks rushed and unfinished, and I’m left being reminded of the rather lifeless other comics adaptations I’d read as a kid – this is not a story well suited for this format, or if it is, Houser’s not the right person to make it happen.

Weapon X #14 – I don’t know, a comic where a team of mutants end up taking Nuke’s “reds” – pills used to enhance his fighting ability and spirit – should be a little more dynamic than this one turned out to be.  

The Wild Storm #10-12 – Warren Ellis’s reworking of the Wildstorm characters hits the one year mark with these issues, and it still feels like he’s just arranging the chessboard, as he brings in characters from the Authority.  I like this comic, but it is moving incredibly slowly.

The Weeks in Graphic Novels:

Charley’s War Vol. 8: Hitler’s Youth – This was another excellent volume of this long-running British strip.  Pat Mills explores two areas of the First World War that don’t get a lot of attention usually – Adolf Hitler’s service in the German army, and the dangerous plight of the observers who sat in the back seat of Bristol Fighters.  Charley, the series’s usual hero, finds himself on the front as a sniper, with Hitler’s unit opposite him in the German trenches. Charley’s brother Wilf works to be promoted as an observer. Both halves of this book are great. This is the last of the Titan printings of Charley’s War that I have – I think there are two or three more I need to track down.  I’ve also seen that new printings of this series have just started coming out, so maybe I’ll just wait for the last volume in that edition.

Monstress Vol. 1 – Awakening – It’s taken me too long to dig into this impressive and strange series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, especially given all of the hype the title’s had.  I really enjoyed this first volume, which introduces us to a very fully realized world split between humans and Arcanics, the magical hybrid offspring of humans and a race of immortals.  Maika Halfwolf, the main character, is an Arcanic who has spent much of her seventeen years a slave, her arm taken from her as a potential source of Lilium, a substance derived from Arcanic bones.  Maika rebels, and her actions catch the attention of factions on both side of the Games of Throne style wall that separates the races and helps maintain a shaky truce. This is a very dense series, and Liu takes her time in making everything clear to the reader.  I can see how some readers might be put off by how long it takes to get the full picture of what’s going on, but I found that intrigued me more. Takeda’s art is great, marrying the cleanliness of manga with lush and detailed backgrounds and interesting character designs.  I definitely want to read more of this series, and cannot recommend this thick, $10, trade enough.

The Pervert

Written by Michelle Perez
Art by Remy Boydell
I was a big fan of Island, the comics anthology edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios that Image put out a few years ago.  Each issue was guaranteed to have something interesting in it, but one strip that really stood out to me was one about a transgendered sex worker by Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell.I was pretty happy to see that strips were being collected and added to the rest of this character’s story, as The Pervert.
To that end, this book does a lot to normalize, in a wider publics’ minds, trans people and sex work.  The main character has friends, sexual partners, and clients, and sometimes those people can be all three things.  She also has to deal with awkwardness at her work when she decides to come out and begin living as a female, and with a level of harassment on the street that is hard to understand.The story jumps around some, and that works as a way to slowly build up the character and help us better understand her situation.  Boydell’s work is simple and straightforward, but often more affecting because of that.  This is a good book.

Savage Town – I picked up this OGN written by Declan Shalvey and drawn by Phillip Barrett, not really knowing what to expect from it.  Shalvey delivers a story about gangsters in an Irish city, and the low-level thug who wants to make a name for himself and tries to play them all.  This book could easily have been written by Garth Ennis, with its flair for the ridiculous and comic. Shalvey builds up a number of characters relatively quickly, and gives most of them their own arc in a small amount of space.  It works, but I think this book would have benefitted from being a little longer, with more room to breathe.