It’s a double-column to make up for being away last week. Considering I was travelling, I am surprised by just how many comics I read.
Best Comics of the Fortnight:
The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale #1 – I love when random projects like this turn up at Image, especially when done by people who have reached the heights that these two creators have in recent years. Chip Zdarsky and Kris Anka, both of whom always have projects happening at Marvel, gift us with this extra-length beginning of a two part fantasy series. Three warriors are brought out of retirement when their kingdom’s long-time enemies kidnap their children, who they didn’t even know were seeing one another. The main character is Krylos, a tightly coiled and repressed man with a difficult relationship with his son. Dahvlan is an anthropomorphic character, who along with his lover/husband Scotiar (think Lord of the Rings elven fan fiction star), is concerned that his daughter is missing, and that she’d taken up with Krylos’s son. There’s a lot of character building done quickly here, as the three heroes set out to find their children, and maybe address old grievances with one another. Anka’s art is very nice, and Zdarsky avoids the light humour he’s best known for. He does remind us that he’s the artist for Sex Criminals by being a little more explicit than that book in a few places, but it’s all good. This is definitely for mature readers though…
Criminal #7 – Ricky Lawless has always seemed the most tragic figure in Criminal, and now that his dad has turned up with Jane, he feels unmoored. A chance encounter with someone he’s had a negative run in with before sends him reeling, and things just don’t look too good for the young teenager. Ed Brubaker always writes these characters with such empathy, and Ricky reminds me of a few people I’ve known in life. This issue is another strong one – since Criminal came back, it’s been pretty close to perfect.
Aliens Rescue #2 – Alec Brand finds himself reunited with Zula and Amanda, who want him to help on a plan to make good use of the planet where the moon they were thought to die on is located. It seems that there are some bacteria present that are helpful in terraforming, but as well, the aliens have thrived in the years since the last series. There are some things that Brian Wood either leaves for the reader to figure out, or decided aren’t worth explaining, such as how the two women have ended up back in the Colonial Marines, but I still enjoyed the set-up and execution of this issue. I do think it’s time for a creator-owned book to come from Wood though; it’s been too long (as I type this, I realize that I’m ignoring Sword Daughter, because of its price).
Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice #2 – The crossover fun continues, as a few members of the Justice League experience ten years of boredom on the farm that Abe and the others came from, while the BH heroes experience the DCU, where Gail can’t swear properly, but giant starfish try to take over your mind. Colonel Weird has an interesting interaction with John Stewart, and the Freaky Friday goodness works pretty well. I especially like the meeting between Barbalien and the Martian Manhunter. Jeff Lemire is clearly having fun with this, but also giving us some insight into these characters. I love that Bruce Wayne finds himself compelled to patrol the sleepy rural community they’re stuck in.
Daredevil #10 – I came across artist Jorge Fornés’s art in some recent issues of Batman, and commented on how much his work reminds me of Year One era David Mazzuchelli. Now, Fornés is drawing Daredevil, and it feels pretty perfect. This is a very good issue as Matt continues his latest ill-advised affair, and finds himself in a police station just as something bad is about to go down. It looks like his attempt to quit being Daredevil is just not going to work out for him, which I guess only surprises him. Chip Zdarsky’s writing on this book is very smart, and has me pretty interested.
Doctor Aphra #35 – It looks like Aphra might have met someone more manipulative than she is, as she makes a desperate move to get the Empire off her back. As always, this series is one of the best things about Marvel’s Star Wars lines.
Excellence #4 – This series continues to reveal layers of depth with each new issue. This one shows the fallout of the fight between Spencer and Aaron, and we learn more about both their relationships with Spencer’s dad. Spencer is a complicated character, and while I know I’m on his side when I read this story, he makes it hard to like him at times – in other words, he’s a very realistically written teenager, with father issues. I like how the fantasy aspects of this story are there to support the family drama; it would be very easy to simply sprinkle in some of this stuff for authenticity and go all in on the action and rebellion. Instead, Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph are playing a long game, and really building these characters. This is another great new Image title that I hope only rises in prominence.
Gideon Falls #16 – We return to Norton’s story this month, as he finds himself in the Gideon Falls where he grew up, and which he doesn’t remember. We learn what he looks like under his surgical mask, and see that the entity associated with the Black Barn is ready to make its move. We are not much further along in understanding what’s been happening in this book, but this issue does feel like a turning point.
Gogor #4 – Ken Garing’s delightful fantasy series continues, with an indictment on capitalism, as Armano’s quest takes him to Animalea, the floating island of animal men (and presumably women, although I’m not sure I saw any). The city there has become overrun by the notions of personal property, with most people working at building crystal slabs that display images, just so they have enough money to buy one. The housing is expensive, while people sleep on the streets. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to Armano, and he lands in a bit of trouble. There does appear to be a link to the Domus, but he’s not sure what it is all about. This series is a lot of fun, and Garing’s art is great. This issue feels like a bit of a digression, but I’m still very interested to see where it goes. The next issue is the last to be solicited; it’s my hope that the book will be returning after a hiatus.
Guardians of the Galaxy #8 – We get to understand what’s been going on with Rocket since Donny Cates took over this title, and learn a lot about his history at the same time. We also learn a bit more about what the Universal Church of Truth has planned. This is a middle chapter of a longer storyline, so there’s not a whole lot that happens, but Cates shows a lot of empathy for these characters. This is the best the Guardians have been since Abnett and Lanning wrote their adventures.
Invaders #8 – We finally get some clarity as to what’s been going on with Namor as he has a secret meeting with the Winter Soldier to explain himself. My biggest issue with this series so far is that I haven’t liked the way Namor’s been behaving. It’s starting to make more sense now. I do like the way Chip Zdarsky shows that the American government is in Roxxon’s pocket, and like the way he brings in other Marvel characters as needed.
The Life and Death of Toyo Harada #6 – Joshua Dysart wraps up his years-long story about Harada, originally portrayed as a villain in the Harbinger series, and now seen as the most complicated character in the Valiant stable. This issue reveals the last of Harada’s plans, and gives at least one of the characters from the excellent Imperium series a happy ending. I’ve really enjoyed Dysart’s Valiant work, and look forward to seeing what he has in the pipeline.
Livewire #9 – I still want to really like this book, but find that it makes things difficult. Writer Vita Ayala takes this latest arc into political territory, as a politician contacts Amanda about eliciting her help in his campaign in return for working towards making life a little easier for Psiots. It’s a very decompressed issue that kind of caused me to lose focus a couple of times. Maybe it’s time to admit that I’m just not feeling this title, and remove it from my pullfile.
Miles Morales: Spider-Man #9 – Miles’s dad and Uncle Aaron take the spotlight this issue, as they go looking for the captured Miles. Jefferson handles the narration, and it gives us some new insight into his character, while Aaron becomes the new Prowler, with a very cool new suit. I’ve been really happy with how writer Saladin Ahmed has approached Miles and his supporting cast since taking over the book. I’m a little wary about the return of the Ultimate Green Goblin next month, just because I think the Ultimate universe needs to be put away, without more characters crossing over. Miles, his friends, and the Maker are more than enough.
Oblivion Song #18 – Ed and Nathan confront one of the Faceless Ones in the aftermath of the aliens having captured everyone in Ed’s community. The mystery of these beings deepens, in this exciting and fast moving issue. Oblivion Song is one of the best books coming out at Image right now, and with the recent spate of major series finishing there, I hope it picks up some new readers.
Once & Future #1 – I’m always interested in a new series written by Kieron Gillen, but I don’t feel like this one, at least in the first issue, lived up to the hype that has surrounded it. An ancient scabbard is found when a lakebed is excavated during a drought in England, and that immediately leads to its theft and the murder of the archeologist who found it. An old woman, learning of this, walks away from the home she lives in, and gets her unknowing grandson to help her on a quest to retrieve it. It turns out Gran used to hunt vampires, and has a secret cache of weapons, to say nothing of knowledge of how to avoid an angry questing beast. This is an entertaining start, but I find Dan Mora’s art to be a little bit not up to the task. I kept thinking about what this book would like in the hands of someone like Declan Shalvey (maybe because the vibe reminded me a little of his work with Warren Ellis on Injection). I’m committed to this, but I hope that it becomes a little more Gillen-esque soon.
Outer Darkness #9 – You know that old Star Trek trope where the Enterprise (or whatever) ends up in some place where something has happened, and everyone starts acting weird until they figure out what’s wrong, and then things get better? This issue is like that, except that they come across a vessel where everyone has stabbed each other to death, and as soon as one of the away team touches a knife, they start doing the same thing, giving the first officer the chance he’s been waiting for to try to kill the captain. This is why I love this comic, by John Layman and Afu Chan. It’s one of the most consistently entertaining books on the stands, and each issue is an unpredictable treasure.
Powers of X #2 – This issue didn’t drop any big bombs on us, but it did inch Jonathan Hickman’s vision forward a little. Most interesting is the scene with Charles, Moira, and Magneto in the Year Zero segment, followed by the mission Charles and Erik discuss with Cyclops in Year Ten. I find myself easily distracted during the future segments, as I’m completely worn out on possible timelines. Still, this remains the most excited I’ve been about the X-Men in ages. I do think that House of X is more of a crowd pleaser though…
Powers of X #3 – And then this issue proves me wrong. The whole issue takes place in the Year 100 era, as Apocalypse and his X-Men make a move on Nimrod, in a mission that is going to have repercussions in the present. With this issue, I started liking the future characters a lot more, and like how Hickman uses this issue to help clarify a few questions I had about Moira, and the revelations we’ve received about her. Good stuff.
Psi-Lords #3 – The setup of this series, which involves four amnesiac Earth people having their heads shaved and tattooed so they receive powers from alien beings trapped in a society of captured vessels orbiting a vampire star on a collision course with Earth, while working to avoid the other powered beings who want to kill them, requires a lot of exposition. They’ve met another human who is trying to help them, and they regrow their hair and start to connect with one another. That’s basically this issue. In between all of this, Fred Van Lente finally manages to grab my attention a little more, and make me more interested in what is happening. This is not the best series coming out of Valiant, but it’s alright.
Silver Surfer Black #3 – This series is a lot more psychedelic than I would have expected, as the Surfer hangs out on young Ego, and tries to help it with a problem. Tradd Moore is the perfect artist for this project, but I kind of find myself not much caring about what’s going on here.
Snotgirl #14 – I recently got caught up on this series, and realized that I truly enjoy it, so I decided I should stay caught up and grab new releases when they come out (which is like three times a year, it seems). This issue takes the book into new territory, with what looks like a murder happening during a bachelor party. This book is fun, a little maddening, and hard to predict. It’s grown on me a lot.
Star Wars: Target Vader #2 – I’m starting to really enjoy this series, about a group of bounty hunters who have been hired to kill Darth Vader at the same time that he’s hunting down the organization that hired them. It has a cool cast of rogues, some unexpected twists, and some very nice Stefano Landini artwork. It’s good stuff.
Valkyrie Jane Foster #2 – I’m definitely on board for this series. This issue is mostly made up of Valkyrie fighting Bullseye, who has managed to get ahold of the previous Valkyrie’s sword. Jason Aaron and Al Ewing work well together as co-writers, and I am always happy with Cafu’s art. I liked Jane’s turn as Thor, and am curious to see what kind of place she takes now in the Marvel Universe – is she going to be a regular hero, or is this book going to remain incredibly Asgard-adjacent? I’m kind of hoping it will be a little more street level…
Vampirella #2 – I love Priest’s writing, so of course I’m on board for this series. He has Vampirella meeting with a psychiatrist, who is himself a piece of work. This issue includes gun toting nuns who hate Vampirella but work with her anyway, some lesbian sex, and some very nice art by Ergün Gündüz. I’m still not sure what is referencing previous runs, and what is all Priest, but I’m drawn into the nonlinear storytelling and general weirdness that Priest brings into every project he writes.
The Warning #10 – Edward Laroche concludes the first third of a larger project with this issue, which has our narrator confront the final alien that has shown up on Earth. This project is incredibly decompressed, but full of neat military jargon and cool images. I enjoyed it, but am afraid I might not remember it by the time the next third comes out. Laroche’s next project sounds interesting though, so I might give it a try.
Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:
Amazing Spider-Man #27
Batman and the Outsiders #4
Detective Comics #1009
Doctor Strange #17
Fantastic Four #13
Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #10
Magnificent Ms. Marvel #6
New World OGN
Star Wars TIE Fighter #5
Superior Spider-Man #10
Sword Daughter #8
Teen Titans #33
Tony Stark Iron Man #15
Wonder Woman #76
Death’s Head #1 – I’m not sure who was clamoring for a new Death’s Head series, or why Marvel doesn’t advertise this as being as much about Wiccan and Hulkling as it is about the robotic bounty hunter. It’s a little weird, but the Wiccan angle has me more interested than I expected to be. Tini Howard is leaving a trail of little-discussed oddball series in her wake at Marvel, and that’s kind of cool.
Domino: Hotshots #1-4 – Gail Simone followed the Domino series with this miniseries, that has Domino’s team taking on Black Widow, Silver Fox, and Deadpool, for a story involving some kind of Celestial artifact. The best thing about this comic remains the interactions between Neena, Diamondback, and Outlaw, like this is Marvel’s answer to Simone’s Birds of Prey. There should be space for a book like this, shouldn’t there?
Eden’s Fall #1-3 – It’s cool that Matt Hawkins decided to link his various Top Cow titles into this three-issue crossover, but having not read The Tithe, and being pretty behind on Think Tank, I’ll admit I was a little lost, or unable to appreciate some nuance, if there was any. Still, this was a good use of the very unique set up of Postal, and made for an interesting enough read.
Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #2-6 – I was really getting into Tom Taylor and Juan Cabal’s work on All-New Wolverine, so of course that ended. They are a good pair for a second-tier Spider-Book though, as they have a good handle on Peter Parker, and take a different approach to the character, looking more at how he interacts with New York City. The art is great, the stories are amusing, and then they do something super touching, like their issue featuring Spider-Bite. This is a very strong title.
Fury: SHIELD 50th Anniversary #1 – This has been sitting in a stack for a while, considering that SHIELD doesn’t even exist anymore. This is a fun story by David Walker that has Nick Fury Jr. going back in time accidentally, and running into his father, while having to stop the Hate Monger from killing a child who will grow to great prominence. Lee Ferguson’s art is decent, and this was a good read.
Future Foundation #1 – Prior to his recent work with the X-Men, I would have said that Jonathan Hickman’s best contribution to the Marvel Universe was the Future Foundation, the gathering off oddball characters and very smart kids that formed during his Fantastic Four run. Marvel has given them their own title, written by Jeremy Whitley, and it’s both charming, and riddled with problems. First, I don’t understand how or when Alex Power, the leader (I mean professor) of the group got so jacked. He’s huge now, and looks ridiculous. Likewise, I’m not sure how he got to be so much older than Artie and Leech, when they were not that far off in age back in the Power Pack days. This issue features an appearance by the new, post Guardians movie version of Yondu, which is also a little problematic for me. The team, if you can call them that, is searching for the Molecule Man’s energy, and that leads them to sneaking Julie Power into a prison that is the only thing on a whole planet so she can bust out a woman who knows who the Avengers are. The Moloids (I love those guys) see Reed Richards there, so the all decide to free him too, but even though they saw him on the monitor, it’s not until they get in front of him that they realize he’s not their Reed? It doesn’t work for me.
Hulkverines #1-3 – I like Weapon H, but it’s pretty clear that there isn’t a market for him to have his own title. Even with the Hulk and Wolverine tossed into this miniseries, it didn’t make much of a splash, so I assume we won’t be seeing a lot of the guy in the future, unless he ends up on a team. Greg Pak is good at these lower-tier hero books, so this was entertaining. There’s not much more to say though.
Loki #1 – For a while, while Kieron Gillen was writing Journey Into Mystery, Loki was perhaps my favourite character at Marvel. With this enjoyable debut, Loki is firmly back into his mildly charming predictably unpredictable self, but lacks the heart that Gillen gave him. I can’t imagine this title, by Daniel Kibblesmith, is going to be in the world for long; it doesn’t feel like he has anything new to say about the character.
Mercury Heat #12 – It took me forever to get around to reading the end of this Kieron Gillen Avatar comic. The ideas are there, and this could have been a very cool look at the gig economy in the future, after we colonize the solar system, but it just got too Avatar, between the stiff art, the need for depravity, and the slow schedule. I think I forgot about this book, which is why I never read the last issue until now.
The Spire #1-8 – Boom puts out a lot of great comics that fly under the radar. The Spire was an eight issue miniseries that came out in 2015 and 2016, that was just great. This book is incredibly inventive and involved, and while it garnered a deserved Eisner nomination, it didn’t get enough recognition. Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely put together a fascinating post-Apocalyptic world, where The Spire, a massive mountain-sized habitat, represents the best of human civilization, while also maintaining some of its worst attributes (monarchy, prejudice, class distinction). In addition to mankind, there are the Skewed, or the Sculpted, tribes of modified humans or completely different life forms, barely tolerated by the humans. Our hero is Shå, a sculpted (part of the Medusi tribe) who has managed to climb to the rank of top cop. She is in love with one of the Baron’s daughter, but is also hated by the one who ascends to control of the Spire after her father’s death. This series, which reminds me of Carla Speed McNeill’s excellent Finder in many respects, deals with a mystery as someone starts killing people involved in a peace negotiation with the Spire’s greatest foes, a traditionalist sect who have uncovered an ancient and deadly weapon. So much is packed into this title, including some genuine surprises. Jeff Stokely’s art is lovely, and channels Moebius in many places. I highly recommend this series; it was a really good read.
Sword Master #1 – I haven’t read any of the New Agents of Atlas stuff, so I am not familiar with Sword Master. I don’t think this first issue helps much, either, as all I really know about this character is that he’s looking for his father. The backup story, written by Greg Pak, works better than the main story, by Shuizhu, at helping make sense of things. This is clearly meant to be read in trade.
Teen Titans #20-27, Annual #1 – This book was not on my radar at all (I hated Adam Glass’s Suicide Squad at the start of the New 52), but when it crossed over with Deathstroke recently, I was pleasantly surprised by just how good it was. Now, I’ve hunted down all the issues from the start of Adam Glass’s and Bernard Chang’s run, and consider this among the best of DC’s current crop. There is a strong focus on characterization in this team of misfits that Robin has put together, and many issues don’t contain any real threat, instead focusing on how these kids, who are mostly strangers, are getting to know one another better. We are slowly getting a good sense of who Djinn and Roundhouse are (although I still don’t really understand Roundhouse’s power set), and it’s cool to see how a character like Crush, who I would normally hate, is starting to gain some appeal. I’m considering adding this title to my pullfile list; it’s that good.
War Stories #10-12 – I’m finally working through some backlogged comics, which means I get to dip my toes back into Garth Ennis’s War Stories. This story, Our Wild Geese, is about the Free Irish who joined up with the British army during the Second World War, despite the fact that their country was maintaining neutrality. It explores the complex history of Irish/British relations, and how the struggles of the previous generation shaped the men of the greatest. It’s a Garth Ennis war story, so it’s good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to his recent book Sara. Some of the blame falls on artist Thomas Aira, as I often couldn’t tell which character was which (an ongoing issue I have with war comics and movies; it might be me).
War Stories #13-15 – This War Story focused on American fighter pilots stationed at Iwo Jima who were assigned to escort bombers bombing mainland Japan. Things are grim, and Ennis uses this story to explore the impact that these flights had on the soldiers, both physically and mentally. It was decent, but again, not too remarkable. There’s a part of me that thinks he was phoning it in a little with this series, allowing historical detail to take precedence over telling gripping character-driven stories.
West Coast Avengers #6-8 – This book is both a lot of fun, and a pretty solid use of underused characters like America Chavez and Quentin Quire. Kelly Thompson is good with characters like this, and the art, by people I am not familiar with, works for this book. It’s even beginning to make me like Gwenpool!
X-23 #8-11 – I found these issues disappointing, as writer Mariko Tamaki returned yet again to the fountain of clones that has been Laura’s life, as she discovers that the doctor she’s fought before is making more clones of her. Gabby and Laura clash over how to handle things, and that brings me to my biggest issue with this run. Gabby was a great character when Tom Taylor wrote her in All-New Wolverine and X-Men Red, but she feels off in this run, either being portrayed as too silly, or too confrontational.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Elsewhere Vol. 1 – I’ve become a big fan of Jay Faerber’s writing over the years, but for whatever reason chose to pass on this series when it first came out. Faerber’s a good writer, and he quickly gets us into the action in this book, but his story about Amelia Earhart finding herself on a fantasy world feels a little too quick and easy for me. I was interested in the action, but guessed the big revelation of the final chapter almost from the beginning, and while I also appreciated the surprise appearance of another famous person who went missing from an airplane, there is nowhere near the level of complexity to this book that Faerber’s (much missed) Coppertown has.
The Flintstones Vol. 1 – When this series began at DC, I kept hearing about how unexpectedly good and current it was. I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Pugh’s artwork (his Animal Man is a perennial favourite) so I thought I’d check it out. Mark Russell very creatively uses the prehistoric setting of this book to poke fun at many aspects of modern culture, including politics, racism, religion, capitalism, and marriage equality in ways that evoke a bit of thought, but more chuckles. This is a fine work of satire, and now I want to get the second volume.
Goddamn This War! – I’ve read a lot of books and comics about the First World War at this point, and so have become pretty immune to their usual tropes. The great French cartoonist Tardi took an unusual approach with this story, having a soldier narrate his time in the war, from the earliest days right past the end, while the book is split into three panel pages that show static images. There is a lot of anti-war sentiment here, as Tardi puts his soldier through some of the worst moments of the war, and then ends the book with pages of drawings of injured men. It’s a chilling and disturbing book, but it’s also very beautiful. There is a lengthy chronology of the war at the end of the book, but I just skimmed that, being pretty familiar with its content.
Nailbiter Vol. 5 – Bound By Blood – As we get closer to the end of this series, we get closer to learning the secrets of Buckaroo, the town that produces serial killers. The actual secrets revealed here get a little silly, but then the premise of this book was never going to lend itself to a rational explanation. There are some cool slasher sequences by Mike Henderson in this volume; I’m ready to see how this all ends.
Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1 – This short first trade, by Kyle Starks, is a wild ride of hobo story clichés, frenetic cartooning, stereotypical dialogue, and complete unpredictability. Jackson is on a mission, and along the way decides to help a new inductee to the hobo life, although that means that he’s dragging a civilian through encounters with hobo gangs, illegal fight clubs, the devil, jail time, and other dangers. Starks’s cartooning is great, and the story holds my interest. I want to get the second trade now, to see how it all ends.
The 7 Deadly Sins
Written by Tze Chun
Art by Artyom Trakhanov
Coloured by Giulia Brusco
The 7 Deadly Sins is the third TKO Studios book that I’ve read and loved (out of three). I was immediately attracted to this book because I’ve become a big fan of Russian artist Artyom Trakhanov (Undertow and Turncoat were both brilliant).This story is set in Texas in 1867, and focuses on life along the border of Comanche territory. Threadgill, a priest, runs a station filled with orphans of the region, but we learn that he’s not exactly an honest man of god. One of his associates, Antonio, believes that the brutal attacks on American settlers are a response by the Comanche chief, Black Cloud, to Threadgill’s actions, and resolves to take steps to correct the situation.
A prison transport comes through town, filled with a small group of people headed for execution, and in them, and the recent capture Jericho Marsh, a black former Union soldier hated in these parts, Antonio sees the opportunity that he needs. He frees them, and offers to pay them handsomely for helping him to take him and his daughter to the Comanche. Of course, they have to face outlaws, pursuing Rangers, and then, eventually, the Comanche themselves.
What follows is a brutal and dirty take on the Dirty Dozen/Suicide Squad model, set in a Western directed by Quentin Tarantino. The character work by Chun, a writer and producer on the Gotham TV show, is excellent. Most of these characters are given backstory to varying degrees, as some of the nastier ones make choices that can lead to redemption.
I was pleased with Chun’s writing, but I was, as expected, very impressed with Trakhanov’s art. He, along with colourist Giulia Brusco, make it possible to really feel the dirt and squalor of this time period. He is sometimes a confusing artist, storytelling wise, but his characters ooze empathy, and he has a cool approach to laying out a story.
I’ve really enjoyed these first three TKO Studios offerings (including Sara and Goodnight Paradise) I’ve read, and am beginning to think I should order the rest (I’m hoping that the second wave comes out soon, as I’ve already paid for the Lemire/Walta one).
Tags: The Weekly Round-Up