The Weekly Round-Up #492 With Excellence #1, Black Hammer: Age Of Doom #10, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #32 & More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Excellence #1 – I think I’m pretty much hooked on Excellence, the new series by Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph.  This series is set in a world where ten families have access to magic, and follow some pretty strict rules about how they can utilise it, and whom they can protect with it.  Spencer Dales was a late bloomer, magically, and that has put his family in a precarious position. When he’s ready to go through the trials needed to prove his worth, he’s older than anyone who’s done it before him, and needs to wrestle with the anger and shame of it.  He also needs to decide if he’ll be able to live by the strictures placed upon his kind, when a family tragedy tempts him to take a different path. Thomas is terrific at setting up unique worlds and experiences for his readers (I miss his Horizon), and Randolph is just a great artist.  There’s a lot to dig into here, and I’m curious by the fact that all the people with magical abilities are black, but it looks like the people they protect are all white. I’d like to know more about how that dynamic works, and look forward to exploring this series fully.

Quick Takes:

Aliens: Resistance #4 – I wish this series wasn’t an ongoing series of miniseries, as the end of this title doesn’t provide a lot of conclusion, and the next miniseries is starting shortly and will be continuing this story.  At the same time, I do like the way Wood writes Zula and Amanda, and that he’s found some new ground in this property.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #10 – It’s time to get the crew back together and put the world to rights, but only Lucy remembers who everyone is, and it’s not immediately apparent that people want to return to a world where they have powers and responsibilities.  Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston continue to provide a very cool comic.

Captain America #10 – Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Captain America run has been kind of slow moving, while wrestling with some big themes.  This issue provides some much-needed forward direction, as Cap finds himself in a cage match in prison with Baron Von Strucker, his warden, while contemplating all the ways the world has changed recently.  I like that Coates is continuing to make good use of Thunderball, I mean Doctor Franklin, who he started to redeem in his Black Panther run. The next issue should provide some long-awaited action.

Deadly Class #38 – The action shifts back to Kings Dominion, the school for assassins, as Marcus and Maria return to their old lives, only now everything is different.  It’s clear that they have some kind of plan in place, but it’s not clear if they will be able to survive it, as everyone either now wants to be Marcus’s friend, or to take him out.  Rick Remender and Wes Craig have made this comic incredibly loveable and compelling, and with this issue, they recapture a lot of what made this book work so well in its first couple of years, although without some of the humour.  I hope that this book, and Remender’s other titles, return to a more regular schedule now.

Doctor Aphra #32 – It’s been a few months since the end of the last arc, and Aphra has taken on the girl who helped her on Milvayne as a sort of apprentice, although that seems to be dredging up a number of her own issues with her mother.  Si Spurrier is digging a little deeper into Aphra’s past, while still keeping her generally kind of terrible. I like it.

Infinite Dark #6 – I’m afraid that Ryan Cady is losing me with this arc.  The first one was a lot more focused, but now that the threat to the space station that holds the last humans in the galaxy is a little more nebulous, I’m finding it a little harder to care and stay invested in the story.

Invaders #5 – It appears that Namor’s plans and schemes are all revealed, as his efforts to push America and Atlantis to war with one another move into high gear.  I really like the way that Carlos Magno draws the original Human Torch during his fight with Namor. This was another solid issue, although I want to say that I really hope that by the end of this storyline, Chip Zdarsky fixes Namor.

Lodger #5 – This dark crime series by the Laphams comes to its close, explaining everything that happened between Ricky and the man that she’s been trying to find for four years, after he tore her family apart.  This was a more experimental series than Stray Bullets, the book the Laphams have been working on for years, and it was probably a nice change of pace for them. Now that this is done, I’m hoping we’ll see a lot more of Stray Bullets – something like four issues have been solicited and are really late now.

Shadow Roads #7 – This second arc is moving a lot more slowly than the first one did, but stays enjoyable.  The cast of this book is split into three groups at the moment, and it seems that the threat of the Cabal is going to be a problem for all of them shortly.  This title is filling the gap left by the ending of The Sixth Gun, but it doesn’t, at least as of yet, have the same momentum that that title did.

Vindication #4 – This was a complicated miniseries that explored issues of race relations, policing, corruption, and guilt.  It was interesting, but now that it’s over, I think it didn’t quite live up to its potential or the weight of its ambitions. Writer MD Marie could have stood with more editorial guidance, and maybe another issue to provide space to better establish the relationships between characters.  There are a few places over the course of the series where I found myself getting lost or confused, and I often had trouble remembering which character was which, or how they were related to the others. Still, it worked well enough that I’d be interested in checking out Marie’s next work.

X-Force #7 – This is the quietest issue of this series yet, as Deathlok works to get the time portal working and everyone else waits around for that to happen.  There’s a great scene involving Warpath and some farm-related romance novels, and every character gets a moment or two, making this feel more like a series that might last for a while.  In the future, Stryfe tortures Young Cable, and makes plans to achieve his goals. The art on this issue is split between the incredible Dylan Burnett and Damian Couceiro, making it clear what era each scene is taking place in.  This continues to be my favourite Marvel comic at the moment, and I really hope it is going to be sticking around. It’s very good.

TCAF Finds:

Ginseng Roots #1

by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson, best known for his blockbuster graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, has returned with a serialized comic book called Ginseng Roots, which is about his childhood growing up in Marathon Wisconsin, the one-time centre of American ginseng production.

As a kid, Craig and his brother Phil worked through the summers alongside their mother, picking weeds and caring for ginseng plants on large farms that specialized in the delicate and lucrative root.  As we learn about how this labor shaped him, we also learn a great deal about the root itself, its needs, and some of the folklore and history that surrounds it.  We also see how the Thompson boys’ love of comic books helped motivate them to work in difficult conditions (they calculate their wages in number of comics they can buy per hour).

This is a very solid piece of work, beautifully illustrated and coloured in grey tones with red highlights.  The book itself is printed on newsprint, giving it a real old-school feel, but is also beautifully drawn.

This series is expected to last for twelve issues, which is interesting to me because this first one feels so complete.  I’m not sure where Thompson intends to go with this from here, but I can see a wealth of potential, considering how unique the ginseng industry was (and probably still is), with its difficult manual labour, its great potential to create millionaire farmers, and the intricacies of interacting with a largely Asian market in 1980s middle America.

I like that this book is going to be serialized, and while that is going to make it more expensive than a one-off graphic novel would be (despite what the photo says, this issue’s cover price is $5), it will make the individual issues something to be treasured.

Pope Hats #6

by Hartley Lin

Pope Hats is one of those books that I most associate with TCAF, the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, as I think I’ve bought every issue so far at the festival.  Much of Pope Hats’s previous issues were recently collected in the graphic novel Young Frances, and the book’s creator, recently did away with his pen name, Ethan Rilly, and embraced his own name, Hartley Lin.

This latest issue is a departure from previous ones.  This issue is much more autobiographical, as Lin muses on becoming a father, moving, finding his relationships with old friends changing, and generally moving into a new stage of his life.

Lin is Canada’s Adrian Tomine, and his stories share a similar insight into humanity.  This issue’s shorter strips don’t allow the space to really dig into and explore any one topic, but the overall effect of reading this issue forms a gestalt image of where Lin is in life.

This was another solid issue in this series.

More Free Comic Book Day Offerings:

Animosity Tales #1 – I’ve heard good things about Animosity, the series about what happens to the world after all animals develop human-level reasoning and communication skills.  This issue, about a college student who decides to save a pet store full of fish by taking them all to a swamp lacks some much-needed internal logic, but is entertaining. I’m not sure it’s convinced me to check out the regular title though.

Captain Canuck – I think that Chapterhouse might win the award for the most confusing offering of the year.  The first half of this comic has a pretty typically bland Captain Canuck story (or at least the beginning of one) after a recap of his entire modern history, but then it’s followed by a bunch of one or two-page strips showcasing a bunch of heroes who aren’t named, by various creative teams that are credited, but because the pages aren’t numbered, are hard to identify.  I’m not even sure that Chapterhouse is publishing anymore (it’s been ages since we’ve seen any new Pitiful Human-Lizard, the only book I’ve been buying from them).

Star Wars Adventures – This is an acceptable all-ages story about Han Solo and Chewbacca.  It’s fine, but I’ll stick with the Marvel Star Wars stuff, thanks.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale – I think it’s cool that DC is producing more young adult graphic novels.  The notion of Selina Kyle being an unhappy kid who is kind of friends with Bruce Wayne in high school is weird, but if you read this as a standalone project, it’s not bad, and Isaac Goodhart’s art is very nice.

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

Batman and the Outsiders #1

Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #6

Detective Comics #1003

War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1

Wonder Woman #70

Bargain Comics:

Infinity Wars #6 & Infinity Wars: ∞ #1 – At the end of it all, I really don’t see what the Infinity Wars event, and the massive Countdown to it, was supposed to accomplish.  The stakes never seemed very high (even when the universe got Infinity Warped), and even the main character death didn’t seem very special. I think I’m done with Gerry Duggan at Marvel; past his initial run on Deadpool, where he had a co-writer, I haven’t enjoyed his work.  I figured that reading these last couple of issues would help me understand why everyone is so down on Rocket in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series, but either that’s a story that hasn’t been revealed yet, or it happened in the Fallen Guardian one-off that came out of this, in which case I have to revisit this nonsense one last time.

The Wild Storm #16-20 – It’s still really cool to see how Warren Ellis has redesigned many of the characters that helped make his career, but at the same time, with only four issues remaining in this series, he’s still introducing new elements and making it seem like the story is just getting underway.  Jon Davis-Hunt’s art is spectacular, and the book is a smooth read, but it’s not gone too far from its first issues, and that kind of bothers me.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Dry County: A Lou Rossi Novel – I was intrigued by the first Rich Tommaso comic I ever read – Dark Corridor – and was pleased to find that Image has reprinted some of his earlier work.  Dry County starts off pretty interestingly. A cartoonist in Florida meets a new girl, and is interested in her, but then she gets kidnapped and he feels compelled to be the one that finds her.  Along the way, the story sprawls a little too much, and it’s never really clear why Lou views himself as the type of person who can handle events like this, instead of going against the kidnapper’s wishes and getting the police involved.  What I like about this book is Tommaso’s clean art, and the strong sense of place he gives the story.

Harrow County Vol. 5: Abandoned – I enjoy this series, but wish that the trades were a little longer and meatier.  Half of this one is drawn by Carla Speed McNeil, and the other half by Tyler Crook, and I’m not sure which half I prefer.  Both are masterful artists. We learn the story of the creature that’s been haunting the woods around Harrow County, the truth about Emmy’s origins, and see what happens when hunters from outside come to the area.  It’s all good, but over in a hurry.

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