The Weekly Round-Up #453 With Port Of Earth #8, Black Badge #1, Oblivion Song #6, Maestros #7, Bloodshot Salvation #12, Star Wars: Darth Vader #19 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Port of Earth #8 – With the conclusion to the second arc, Zack Kaplan does a great job of upending some of the expectations of this series.  It’s about the challenges faced by a human security agency tasked with protecting an alien port on Earth. The two main officers have been chasing one alien who tried to kill some Consortium bigwigs for a few issues now, but when they finally catch up to him, we learn that there’s a lot more going on than we realized.  It was around that point that I started thinking about the pre-Columbian Americas, a comparison that is then explicitly made later in the issue, when we see a glimmer of what the Consortium has planned for the Earth. This is a very well-written series, with good art by Andrea Mutti. I look forward to the third arc, which is hopefully starting soon.

Quick Takes:

Black Badge #1 – Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins worked very well together on The Grass Kings, which ended recently, so I was happy to see that they were collaborating again on a new title.  Black Badge is about a group of black ops Boy Scouts. This first issue introduces us to the troop, as they embark on a mission into North Korea. One of the boys, Willy, is new to the group, which provides us an entry to their dynamics and personalities.  This fits well with some of Kindt’s other spy-based work, and looks like it’s going to be a fun read. Jenkins has a really good handle on drawing teenagers, and the book looks great.

Bloodshot Salvation #12 – Jeff Lemire wraps up his couple of years on Bloodshot with this issue, as Ray finishes his mission in the far future (which, really, probably could have managed to be fleshed out a little better, as he meets his future self with less fanfare than those old insurance commercials used to give such an event), while everyone works to free his daughter from Omen.  As much as this series always looked great, I think I’m more than a little bored with Bloodshot, and would probably drop the book, which is being relaunched in November, were it not for the fact that the new writers are Nadler and Thompson, whose work I’ve really been liking on The Dregs, Cable, Come Into You, and in other spots. Their names guarantee that I’ll give the book a look.

Daredevil #606 – DD is looking for ways to take down the Kingpin, and that looks like it means involving two of Charles Soule’s better additions to the Inhumans canon – Frank McGee and Reader.  DD also has to figure out how to fight a social media-conscious Hammerhead. With all the Hand stuff wrapped up, Soule is taking this book someplace new, although the way the issue ended had me a little surprised and confused.  It’s great to see Phil Noto on this book, as I’ve long been a fan of his work.

Darth Vader #19 – Vader is back on his mission to hunt down any remaining Jedi with the Inquisitorius.  Really, this is kind of a retread of an issue, although it does look like it’s setting up an explanation as to why there weren’t any Inquisitors in later Star Wars stories.  I love the cover Giuseppe Camuncoli and Elia Bonetti have painted in homage to some early Star Wars art.

Death or Glory #4 – Rick Remender and Bengal are sure pushing the limits of what’s possible in terms of car chases in this series, as they give us a very kinetic book about the organ trade and familial loyalty.  There’s not a lot to this book – it’s kind of a b-movie ride, but it’s definitely enjoyable.

Detective Comics #986 – Bryan Hill’s very good run on this title continues, and since the price hasn’t crept up yet, I keep buying it!  The team faces off against Karma, and Black Lightning works to consolidate his place in the Bat-organization. I’m still a little confused as to the future of this title though, with James Robinson coming on soon to write an arc, and then Peter Tomasi taking over.  Are Black Lightning and the others going to be sticking around? Is Hill going to be writing an Outsiders book soon featuring this team (another former Outsider makes an appearance in this issue)? DC is not very clear as to their intentions for this book, and that makes it hard to invest in this team dynamic.

Eternal Empire #10 – Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn do great work together, and this fantasy series is no exception.  The series is about two people who have grown up in enslaved castes and who have, after receiving strange visions, found each other and discovered that they alone have the power to challenge the Empress who is in the process of taking over the entire world.  In addition to be an exciting series, it’s also worked as an examination of duty, and whether the strongest should be the one to be in charge. I liked this series a lot (although I might have liked their Alex+Ada a little more), and look forward to seeing what these two have for us next.

Farmhand #2 – Rob Guillory’s delightful new series continues with a deepening of some of the mysteries involving Ezekiel, his family, and his father’s farm, which provides plant-grown replacement organs.  New characters are introduced, but we really don’t learn a lot more about why Ezekiel left his family years ago, or just what all his father is hiding. I like the slow burn approach to this story, and the strength of Guillory’s character development.  I’ve always been a fan of his art and the little easter eggs he tosses in all over the place; this is a very strong new series.

Maestros #7 – I quite enjoyed Steve Skroce’s fantasy series that ends with this issue.  It has, in its ending, a lot in common with a Millarworld miniseries, in that it hits all the right emotional notes, and is a little predictable, but is still an enjoyable read.  I’m hoping we’ll see more from Skroce in the years ahead; he’s really great.

Oblivion Song #6 – As much as Robert Kirkman gets respect for The Walking Dead, I really don’t think he gets enough credit for his other titles.  Oblivion Song has been fantastic from the first issue, and displays the unpredictability and flexibility of his best books. In this issue, we learn why Nathan feels so responsible for finding people that have been lost in another dimension, and start to learn some of the lengths he’s gone to keep this all a secret.  This is a book full of great characters, interesting locations, and now, Faceless Men, whoever they’re going to turn out to be. This is a book that I see running for years.

Relay #2 – I remain intrigued with Relay, Zac Thompson’s book at Aftershock, but I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s going on.  There is an interplanetary religion/control system called the Relay that is imposed upon inhabited worlds. There are agents who travel on huge colony ships looking for new planets, and also looking for Donaldson’s World, the perhaps mythical planet where the founder (?) of the Relay has gone.  These agents don’t all believe in the Relay, but when three of them find Donaldson’s World, and he rejects their offer, it’s the most religious that wants to break the rules and protect his spiritual icon. I’m left with a lot of questions though, that the book either doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining, or that I’m too thick to absorb the answers to.  I’m not sure what the Relay is, or who (if anyone) is in charge of it. I’m not sure why every planet we’ve seen looks like versions of Earth. I’m not sure why, if everyone is mandated to follow the Relay as a religion, people still talk about Jesus Christ. And, most importantly, I’m not sure I know what’s going on. But, weirdly, I’m still intrigued, and have built enough esteem for Thompson’s writing with his regular partner Lonnie Nadler, that I want to know a lot more about this stuff, and so am going to keep reading, most likely.  I just wish that some stuff was made more clear (or, maybe, that I was smarter).

Shadow Roads #2 – With this second issue, Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt and artist AC Zamudio continue to show us around this new world, and help to better introduce the new characters.  This book feels so much like The Sixth Gun, which is great in many ways, but also a little confusing, as I keep expecting things to line up with that earlier story. I can see how, through playing the long game, Bunn and Hurtt have a lot to say with these characters.  I also just love the aesthetic of this book as a Western fantasy series that actually respects its indigenous characters.

Spider-Man Annual #1 – I’ve missed Miles Morales in the time since his series ended, but I’m not sure why Marvel decided to bring him back for an annual that tells a story of his earlier days as Spider-Man.  So much of that time is confusing now, since Miles got absorbed into the 616 after Secret Wars, so I don’t know if this was done as part of an effort to establish that he was around back in the Secret Invasion days, or to what extent that specific time period matters.  Writer Bryan Hill has a good handle on Miles’s character, but artist Nelson Blake II makes things a little too reminiscent of Mark Bagley’s art for me to be completely comfortable with this book. If this is a try-out kind of thing, to see if Hill and Blake would be suitable to shepherd Miles through his next series, I’d support it, but would want to see Blake be a little more individual with his art.

Sword Daughter #3 – I like it when Brian Wood revisits territory he began covering in Northlanders, but have found myself confused about this book.  Each issue has been $4.99 so far, and oversized, but the pacing has sometimes felt off. This issue shows a confrontation we’ve been waiting for from the beginning, and in some ways feels like it might be a hasty wrap-up of the story, which is supported from the fact that no more issues have been solicited yet.  At the same time, there’s a lot left unresolved, and new elements are introduced to the story.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Catwoman #2

Champions #23

Domino #5

Fantastic Four #1

Hunt for Wolverine Adamantium Agenda #4

Old Man Logan #45

Quicksilver No Surrender #4

Wildstorm Michael Cray #10

Wonder Woman #52

X-Men Blue #33

Bargain Comics:

Avengers #1 – I was not too impressed with the first issue of this latest Avengers relaunch.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think that the idea that there was an Avengers team one million years ago, featuring only early versions of modern characters, is kind of stupid.  I also think that, at this point in the Marvel Universe’s history, there would not come a time when the Avengers have disbanded completely, and would then need another big threat to bring them back together.  My final complaint is that I just generally don’t like Ed McGuinness’s artwork. I do see myself reading more of this comic, in case it’s all a matter of a first issue not exactly sticking the landing, but I really wasn’t terribly impressed.

Batman and the Signal #1 – I haven’t liked much of what Scott Snyder has done with Batman, but I do find the character of Duke Thomas interesting.  That said, I have no idea what’s going on in this comic – Duke has powers now, and so do a bunch of other kids. Obviously this is coming out of the Metal event that I never read, because the cover tells us this, but some explanation would have been nice.  I’m always down for Cully Hamner art though…

Moon Knight #195 – I think Moon Knight must be one of the weirdest books Marvel is publishing right now.  This issue has a group of oddball people trying to form a collective consciousness through the use of AIM tech, with the result that a gestalt monster is absorbing anyone it touches.  Paul Davidson makes this issue equally cartoony and fantastic, art-wise, while Max Bemis takes us down a weird path.

Ms. Marvel #30 – Another charming issue of Ms. Marvel.  I see that G. Willow Wilson is starting to write more books – I hope this doesn’t impact the quality of this title.

Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #301-305 – All I do lately is complain about time travel stories, yet somehow, I love the one that Chip Zdarsky tells in these issues.  Peter, his sister, and JJ Jameson have gone back in time, and end up meeting Peter’s early self. His attempts to give himself a better life (they know they aren’t in the same timeline and therefore feel okay about changing the future) is charming, although it leads to unforeseen consequences.  Zdarsky writes one of the best Peter Parker’s I’ve seen; that’s probably why it’s just been announced that he’s leaving the title.

Rogue & Gambit #1-5 – I enjoyed this miniseries that, I guess, was used to set up the new Mr. & Mrs. X series.  Kelly Thompson makes good use of readers’ sense of nostalgia, as the pair face off against a villain who steals specific memories, allowing Thompson and artist Pere Pérez to revisit various moments in X-Men history.  I’ve never been a fan of this pairing of characters, but this series makes a good case for the two of them.

Superman #39, 42-44 – I’m still catching up on the end of Peter Tomasi’s Superman run, which I enjoyed a lot until a Bizarro story brought that all to a screeching halt.  Honestly, I find it so hard to read Bizarro dialogue, which doesn’t appear to have any real rules to it. Sometimes you put a not in front of a word, and other times you use an antonym.  Which is it? Either way, it’s annoying as hell to read. I would love to never see this character again.

Weapon X #15-18 – It really feels like Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are working hard to give this series its own space among the X-books, but I’m not sure it’s succeeding.  The idea of putting Sabretooth in charge as a way of trying to draw out his better nature is an interesting one, but does it really work? I hate Omega Red as a character, so I’m a little biased against some of what happens in these issues, but I also see where there is some potential, which is why I keep giving it a chance.  Truthfully, I think this book could be safely cancelled and not be terribly missed.

The Wild Storm #13&14 – Skywatch and IO are now openly at war with each other, while John Lynch is tracking down some old agents of his.  It feels like Warren Ellis is still adding new ideas to this story, even though it’s more than half over. Still, this is a cool comic with lots of great concepts at play.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Angel Catbird Vol. 1 – I’m really not a fan of writer Margaret Atwood (although, admittedly, I haven’t really read anything beyond a few short stories since I was in high school), but was a little curious to see just what she would do with a graphic novel.  She has a reputation for being very literary and high-minded, but Angel Catbird, her series with artist Johnnie Christmas is really just silly old school superhero nonsense. Her hero is a quiet scientist who is working on a gene-splicing formula for his boss when it gets spilled on him, his cat, and a random owl, turning him into a hybrid of the three.  The thing is, there’s a lot of people who are part cat, and they hang out together, and his boss is part rat and is evil. Also, there’s a raven guy, who doesn’t get discussed except in the textpages at the back. The whole thing feels like a Golden Age book, and I could never quite tell if Atwood was aiming for a younger audience, or just couldn’t keep the material from becoming too juvenile.  Christmas is a good artist, but this lacks the subtlety and emotion of his work on Sheltered.  I’ve already picked up the second volume, so I’ll read it, but don’t expect much from it.  At least now I know to stay away from Atwood’s next series, with Ken Steacy.

Nanjing: The Burning City

by Ethan Young

I have always loved war comics.  Unlike war movies, they often allow space to understand characters, and while many of them are steeped in easy cliché, there are a lot more that try to dig into the strength of character it takes to survive military conflict.Ethan Young’s Nanjing: The Burning City, is a very effective war comic.  It focuses on two Chinese men, a Captain and one of his men, who have somehow managed to survive Japan’s taking of their city, and after their command structure fled, find themselves stuck in a ruined and occupied city.

They have some difficult choices to make.  Lu wants to make for the Safety Zone, a space reserved for refugees and watched over by Germans who are working with the Japanese Army (this happened in 1937, during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, before the madness of WWII absorbed this conflict).  The Captain does not think they should do this, and instead wants to try to make his way out of the walled city through a particular gate.

The two men have to continue to make difficult choices as they make their way through the ruins.  They hear some soldiers attack a mother and her daughter, but have to deal with the fact that they can’t do a thing to help.  Likewise, they have to turn down an old man’s request for help, knowing that to leave him is to kill him.

Young, with his large panels, quiet scenes, and excellent facial expressions, makes this story tense and kind of horrible.  The Captain is a typically stoic military man who is doing all he can to hold it together, although when the pair meets a young family, they have to change their plans.

I really enjoyed this book, which helps to bring this story to a larger audience in North America, where the Nanjing story is not really taught or discussed often.

Postal Vol. 3 – The more I read of this Top Cow series, the more I can see it being adapted into a good TV series.  Bryan Hill became the solo writer with this issue, and I like how he’s keeping the series episodic, while slowly working on a bigger story.  Postal is set in the town of Eden, a completely hidden place populated by serial killers and other criminals, and Mark, the son of the Mayor, who happens to be on the autism spectrum.  In this volume, a young sociopath shows up and starts causing trouble. The biggest problem, though, is that her father is part of the reason why the town is able to exist, and so she is untouchable.  It is all very TV good.