The Weekly Round-Up #455 With Royal City #14, Beasts Of Burden: Wise Dogs & Eldritch Men #1, Black Hammer: Age of Doom #4, Star Wars: Darth Vadet #20 & Doctor Aphra #23, Die! Die! Die! #2 & More

The Best Comic of the Week:

Royal City #14 – Jeff Lemire wrapped up his family drama series this week, and it was a pretty touching conclusion to a series that crept into my head a lot more than other comics do.  This series has been about a lot of things – loss and grief, the changing economics of small towns, trust, and how the bonds within a family change with time and tragedy. Lemire has gotten so good at making characters feel real in a short amount of space and time, and packed a lot of story into these fourteen issues.  Every member of the Pike family went through an arc of their own, and ended in a different, hopefully more positive place. I really wish there were more comics like this – realistic dramas that utilize the possibilities afforded by the comics page, without even dipping into magical realism. I’m going to miss the Pike family, but look forward to whatever Lemire is working on next.  His character-owned stuff (Descender/Ascender, Gideon Falls, Black Hammer) is terrific, but the stuff he draws himself is always extra special.

Quick Takes:

Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men #1 – I’ve been a huge fan of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden.  This new miniseries doesn’t have Thompson’s work in it, but her replacement, Benjamin Dewey, is the only other artist I can think of who can imbue so much personality into animal characters.  This time around, we are focusing on the Wise Dogs, the mystical elders who were sometimes seen advising the book’s regular heroes – a group of dogs that keep the town of Burden safe from evil creatures.  The Wise Dogs stumble across a pair of human-set traps that make them wonder if there is a new threat coming. It’s a solid first issue, although it’s not the most new-reader friendly one I’ve seen.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #4 – It’s time for Jeff Lemire to start revealing the secrets behind how and why our heroes have been trapped for years in a small rural community.  Knowing that this is going to happen didn’t prepare me for the surprises of the last page though, as Lemire and artist Dean Ormston switch things up, and make sure that I’m eagerly anticipating the next issue.  Good stuff.

Black Panther #3 – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuña continue their futuristic science fiction saga that has someone who is likely our T’Challa tossed into a battle between the evil intergalactic Wakandan empire and the freedom fighters who oppose it.  This issue has some nice action sequences, but still isn’t fully fleshing out this story. I like it, but I’d be happier with a story set in current day. I’m tired of time jumping and future stories, even when they’re done very well.

Daredevil #607 – Mike Murdock is back, as Charles Soule swerves away from his Kingpin story for a little bit, plunging Matt into some weirdness.  Mike has never existed – he is Matt’s Matches Malone, but now he’s getting involved in bar fights with villains, and that’s kind of odd. This week I saw speculation that Soule’s long tenure on DD might be ending soon, so I feel like this story within the larger arc is being used to pad out his run a little bit, as it otherwise isn’t doing much to add to Matt’s story (he doesn’t currently have much going on in his personal life).  I don’t know – it’s kind of nice to see shorter stories interrupt the big ones from time to time.

Darth Vader #20 – Now that the Jedi have been hunted down, Vader and his bloodlust are getting harder to control.  He turns on some of his Inquisitors this issue, and even stands up against the Emperor. It is always hard to understand a character like Vader, so Charles Soule has to have him bounce off other characters (sometimes physically) to be properly interpreted.  It is working so far, but must be hard to maintain.

Days of Hate #7 – Ales Kot and Danijel Zezelj continue their dark and personal tale about revolutionaries working against the general awfulness of the post- or late-Trump era.  This is a pretty quiet issue, as two of our characters sit around waiting for something to happen, while their respective partners come under different forms of government scrutiny.  Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but it does help convey the general tone of the series. And, as always, Zezelj is incredible.

Detective Comics #987 – Bryan Hill’s run wraps up here, and happily, the price stayed at $2.99 for his whole arc.  As I’d guessed, the point of this arc is to set up a new Outsiders comic, although it hasn’t been announced yet. Batman and his new squad, which adds Katana and seems to lose Batgirl, finish dealing with Karma, but have a new, larger mission awaiting them around the world.  I like the way Hill writes Black Lightning, and am curious to see what this Outsiders project will be like, if and when it comes out.

Die! Die! Die! #2 – As we get a little deeper into Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, and Chris Burnham’s new series about secret government assassins and triplet killers, we get a better understanding of what this series is really all about.  Kirkman and Gimple must be having a good time writing the insane situations they are putting these characters in, and it’s obvious that Burnham is having a ball on this book. I don’t know how long this title is set to run (if they keep killing characters, it can’t be an ongoing for long), but intend to stick with it for the duration.

Doctor Aphra #23 – Aphra continues to try to find her way off a decommissioned Imperial prison ship, while having to deal with two women that she has been or is in a relationship with, the fact that the rest of the prisoners want to kill her, and that other enemies are circling.  It sounds like the right time to try to make some money, doesn’t it? Aphra continues to be a delight of a character, and her series is really very good.

Punisher #1 – I really don’t think that this title needed a relaunch just because Frank Castle lost access to the War Machine armor, but the number on the front of the comic didn’t affect my enjoyment of it.  Matthew Rosenberg has Frank trying to redeem himself from working with Hydra during Secret Empire by going after the organization just as they are working to legitimize their home country of Bagalia through entrance to the United Nations.  Avoiding the usual collection of weirdo villains that we usually see in Bagalia stories, Rosenberg instead makes better use of the Marvel villain stable, trotting out Mandarin and Agger, the Roxxon guy from too many Thor comics. There’s a lot of potential here, and I like the art by Szymon Kudranski, who I think is already off this title (because why would the artist on the second issue be the same as the one on the first?).  I’m not usually a big Punisher fan, but Rosenberg’s gotten me to stick around for a while now.

Shanghai Red #3 – Jack/Red/Molly finally reunites with her sister, although it’s not what either of them had been hoping for.  Christopher Sebela is writing a very compelling story of revenge set in the days when Portland Oregon was an industry leader in shanghaiing people and pressing them into service on boats.  Molly is an incredibly hard character, and it’s interesting to see how she reacts when people treat her with even a little bit of kindness.

X-Men Red #7 – This series is in full swing, as one faction of Jean’s team tries to find proof of Cassandra Nova’s meddling on the world stage (and end up putting a plane full of people at risk) while the other half of the squad fights to defend Atlantis from Teen Abomination.  It’s a very solid issue that allows the entire cast a moment or two to shine. I am hopeful that this book won’t be affected by the upcoming Uncanny X-Men relaunch, as I really like what Tom Taylor is doing with it, and want to see him explore this particular cast of characters further.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #4

Avengers #6

Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor #4

Justice League Dark #2

Old Man Logan #46

Postal Vol. 7 TP

West Coast Avengers #1

Wonder Woman #53

X-Men Gold #34

Bargain Comics:

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #1-5 – I’d actually picked this 2009 series out of a dollar bin around the time that Al Ewing was writing about Adam Brashear in the various Avengers and Ultimates titles of a couple of years back, but never got around to it until now.  This was a flawed project that could have been a lot better. Kevin Grevioux wanted to retcon a character into Marvel’s history, and so gave us the Blue Marvel, the greatest hero of the early 1960s, at least until it was revealed that he was black, and the people turned against him.  He was forced to go into hiding, although after his arch nemesis returns, Tony Stark, as director of SHIELD, tracks him down, along the way revealing that his wife was originally a government agent sent to spy on him. Grevioux does an alright job of wrestling with issues of race, and the retcon works better than the Sentry’s for the most part.  Visually, this book is a disaster. The art is by Matt Broome and Roberto Castro, neither of whom have apparently seen Iron Man’s helmet or the Watcher’s head before. I can get that after forty-five years, Brashear might not have aged, but his wife apparently froze at twenty-eight. As well, the costume designs for Blue Marvel and Anti-Man are mid-90s post Liefeld, yet they are supposed to have existed in the early 60s, which makes no sense aesthetically, and which passes up an opportunity to do some cool nostalgia-driven thing.  This might be nitpicking, but it goes to show that this series, which was originally supposed to run for six issues but was decreased to five by the second issue, might have needed a little more time in the kitchen. Still, that said, I’d be down for Adam and Monica Rambeau to come back…

Generation X #86&87 – I liked Christina Strain’s Generation X, and think it’s a shame that it ended.  I’ve always liked the titles that focus on the students and lower profile mutants who are not actively on an X-Men squad, so this book was up my ally, especially considering that it redeemed Jubilee, whose whole vampire deal was pretty unfortunate.  I especially like the way that Strain writes Quentin Quire, a character who is not used enough. Amilcar Pinna’s art on this book is gorgeous.

Gotham Academy #14-18 – I’ve had these sitting around for a while, but having finally read them, I realize that I was right to drop this book when I did.  These issues use an anthology format to allow a wide variety of writers, artists, and cartoonists tells short stories featuring the GA kids, but none of them are really memorable or impressive, despite there being some very respectable names attached.

Gotham Academy Annual #1 – Things returned more to normal with this annual which has the kids approaching a mystery from two different, but related, angles.  It shows that this concept works a lot better with a more spacious commitment to storytelling.

Gotham Academy Second Semester #1-3 – Then, in the Rebirth era, they brought the book back and tried to recapture the charm of the earliest issues, but it didn’t quite work.  It feels a little too much like the creators are going through motions with the start of this arc, having already said most of what they set out to say in the first volume. I guess that explains why this is no longer a thing.

Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda #1 – So the Bendis-era New Avengers get back together to go looking for Wolverine’s body, and it lands them on a submarine in time for a black market auction.  Tom Taylor seems to be enjoying himself writing this one, but I’m not sure that I appreciate the coincidences that this story is structured around; it feels a little too contrived.

War Stories #7-9 – It’s time to get caught up on Garth Ennis’s war comics, which are always a real treat.  These issues contain “The Last German Winter” a story about a German family that is fleeing the Russians. They meet up with a German tank crew who have had to abandon their vehicle, and spend some time walking through the woods together.  This is prime Serious Ennis, so we get a look at how war messes with the minds of soldiers, and how “hero” becomes a relative term. It’s especially interesting to see things from the German perspective, but it’s also kind of standard Ennis war stuff.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Crossed Vol. 14: I decided a while ago that I was done with Crossed, as just about every volume I picked up was almost indistinguishable from the others, with one final exception – Kieron Gillen’s lone Crossed story.  I am a huge fan of Gillen’s writing and body of work, and figured that if there was anyone (aside from Alan Moore and his future Crossed saga) who could say something new about this property, it would be him.  His story, about a professor who discovered an earlier outbreak of the Crossed virus at the dawn of mankind’s prehistory, is an interesting concept, but as I read it, it came across as badly flawed. That said, most of the flaws I identified did get explained away by the end of it, but it still ended up coming off as a little half-baked.