The Weekly Round-Up #519 With Ginseng Roots #2, Family Tree #1, Oblivion Song #21, Star Wars #74 & More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Ginseng Roots #2 – I picked up the first issue of Craig Thompson’s new serialized comic at TCAF last year, and was very happy to see a new issue in my pull-file this week.  As a child, Thompson picked ginseng with his family in Wisconsin, and is now exploring how that early experience of labour, and the delicate and valuable root, have shaped his life.  In this issue, Thompson returns home for a family reunion, and we learn a lot about his family dynamic, meeting his sister (for the first time in his autobiographical comics – she was written out of Blankets, his best-known work), and learning what his parents thought of how they were portrayed in his comics.  We also get to sit in on a discussion of ginseng with one of the families that first hired him. This book has a lot to say about labour, modern American laziness, the impact of large-scale agribusiness and environmental regulations, as well as family and memory. Thompson’s art is beautiful and layered, as each page is packed with visual information.  I like how we see young Craig and his brother Phil popping up in the backgrounds of many drawings, and despite the fact that I have never worked a manual labour job a day in my life, I felt I could relate to this in unexpected ways. I’m so happy that a new issue is scheduled to arrive in January, as I want to read more.

Quick Takes:

Black Hammer/Justice League – Hammer of Justice #5 – The Dark Horse/DC crossover ends well, with the two teams finally coming together, and everything hinging on a decision made by Gail.  It looks like Jeff Lemire had a lot of fun writing this series, and used it to pay homage to cross-overs of the past, with the two teams sitting down to dinner together like the old JLA/JSA stories.  This was fun, and the right length.

Black Stars Above #1 – I was very impressed with the first issue of this new Vault miniseries by writer Lonnie Nadler and artist Jenna Cha.  It’s set in northern Canada in the late 1800s, and centres on Eulalie, a Métis girl who is chafing under the isolation and deprivation of her home.  She lives with her parents and paternal grandfather, who lost his leg under mysterious circumstances long ago, and is only now beginning to speak of it.  Eulalie learns that her family plans to marry her off to a boy she doesn’t know, and so when a strange man in town offers her money to deliver a package for him to ‘the town north of the woods’, a mysterious place that no one has been to, she agrees and sets out on her own.  Nadler’s writing, usually done in concert with Zac Thompson, has often been very original and good, and that’s why I took a chance on this series. I love historical fiction, and the fact that characters reference historic figures and situations without explaining them, always appeals to me.  Cha’s art is atmospheric and dark, and the horror undertones build as the issue progresses. I’m all in for this book, and already looking forward to the next issue.

Fallen Angels #1 – When the Dawn of X lineup was announced, this title stood out as the least likely title being revived, as the original Fallen Angels was a deeply weird New Mutants spinoff.  The new Fallen Angels focuses on Psylocke, formerly known as Kwannon, the original owner of the Asian body Betsy Braddock inhabited since the early 90s. Psylocke does not feel comfortable on Krakoa, and receives a vision of a new threat, named Apoth, who is involved in a techno-drug scheme, and has a connection to her past.  She gathers a small team (X-23 and Teen Cable, so far) to accompany her. This is a very dark book, with moody but lovely art by Szymon Kudranski, and slightly confusing writing by Bryan Hill. This book follows closely on events in X-Force #1, suggesting that the level of coordination in these books is going to be tighter than anything we’ve seen in years.  I’m interested in the book, as I like all of these characters, and feel that they all need to be explored a little more (with the exception of Laura, of course). I like that Mister Sinister is involved, and enjoy the way Hill writes Magneto. I don’t see this being a book that lasts more than a year, as it’s clearly going to end with this Apoth storyline, but I’m down to check it out for a while.

Family Tree #1 – I’m going to give anything that Jeff Lemire writes a chance, but I think that this first issue of his new series with Phil Hester has my attention.  Set in the late 1990s, it focuses on a single mother raising two kids, who is barely holding it together. We get a good idea of how difficult her life is (grocery store job, teen delinquent son) before her daughter’s rash turns into something apocalyptic, and things start to go insane.  It’s hard, when you see what’s happening to the daughter’s back, not to think of Rob Guillory’s Farmhand, but this feels a lot darker than that title. I’m curious to see where Lemire’s headed with this.

For Real #1 – James Romberger has put together this tribute to Jack Kirby.  There is a comic story about Kirby getting a CAT scan while remembering one of his more harrowing war stories, and then an essay by Romberger about how Kirby’s war experiences shaped the rest of his life.  Both pieces of this comic are impressive and moving, and together they help shed more light on an artist whose best-known work often overshadows the way in which his war trauma informed everything he did. It’s cool that Uncivilized Books is putting out one-offs like this, and I hope they do more.

Gideon Falls #18 – This series is turning into a slightly more conventional horror comic, as Norton and his father set out on their own just as the Smiling Man makes his presence known on their world.  The priest and the psychiatrist get a better sense of what’s happening as well, and things feel like they are speeding up. Andrea Sorrentino’s art is always impressive on this book, and Jeff Lemire moves the story steadily forward.

Guardians of the Galaxy #11 – I was surprised to see recently in Previews that Donny Cates is leaving this title, and that it’s being relaunched, for the 10 000th time, under Al Ewing, who is one of the few writers at Marvel that excites me more than Cates does.  This issue more or less reunites the team, only most of them are under the control of the Church of Universal Truth, and are working against Quill and the others. I’d have liked to see Cates stick around longer, but I’m good with how solid this run has been.

Invaders #11 – Cap and Namor get some time to talk, as they find themselves on a remote island.  Chip Zdarsky has to wrap this whole thing up by the end of the next issue, and it looks like he has a lot of work to do.  I do hope that Namor returns to being a respected character again, as I’d like to see a lot more of him.

Oblivion Song #21 – This series reminds me of The Walking Dead in that it just keeps getting better as it goes, and it often spends time exploring what I’d call procedural concerns.  Most of this issue is given over to preparations to invade the alien structure and retrieve the humans being held captive there. We see more of what their base looks like, and learn a little more about the divisions in their society, while tension continues to ratchet up.  Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo DeFelici are doing some very good work with this book.

Psi-Lords #6 – I’ve become committed to this book, but I still find the various factions that comprise this series to be a little confusing.  Fred Van Lente is a great writer though, and with every issue, I’m more interested in things.

Sea of Stars #5 – It took me a while to get into this book, but now I’m really enjoying it.  A young boy who has stumbled on wild space powers is about to be sacrificed by the Zzazteks, a space-faring race, so their god can return, while his father, who believes his son is dead, is imprisoned close by.  This issue is exciting and has cool art by Stephen Green.

Star Wars #74 – Greg Pak continues to pull together the various threads of his story arc, as we move towards next month’s big finish, for both this story and this series.  I guess Marvel realized that they almost let a series get up to triple digits in their numbering, so they need to reset. It’s annoying. It’s also become clear that Pak was only ever given this book to arrange a bridge between Kieron Gillen’s run and the upcoming relaunch.  He deserved the chance to create some longer stories.

Star Wars: Target Vader #5 – This issue really digs into Beilert Valance, as we chart his life in the Empire, and get a better understanding of some of his motivations, and why he’s the way he is.  This series has been very well written, and does a good job of showing how you can build in the Star Wars universe without always falling back on the same old tropes. Sure, this series couldn’t exist without Darth Vader as the focal point, but this is very much Valance’s story.  I like how it ties in to the Han Solo Imperial Cadet title too. This kind of cohesive world building always makes me happy.

Trees: Three Fates #3 – This latest Trees story is odd, in that it focuses very little on the alien structures that have shown up around the Earth, and is instead about life in a remote Russian town that is under the control of a single family.  Warren Ellis is writing for the trade, so the pacing feels off throughout, but it’s still an interesting story.

X-Men #2 – I’m not really sure what to think about Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men.  This is meant to be the flagship book in the X-Line, but the major events seem, so far, to be happening in X-Force, while this book has been pretty off-beat.  In this issue, a new island appears, attracting the attention of Krakoa. Cyclops heads over with Rachel (I hate the name Prestige) and Teen Cable to scope things out, and they spend the whole issue all acting completely out of character.  Scott is a happy dad, Rachel acts like a completely untraumatized teenager, and Nate is portrayed as pretty dumb. There’s a new character on the island, who looks like he belongs in Hickman’s East of West or The Dying and the Dead. I like how this picks up a thread from (I think) Powers of X, but would have thought that this title would have more to do with life on Krakoa.  It feels like Hickman is changing things there before routines have been established. Leinil Francis Yu’s art is nice, but he makes Teen Nate look a lot older than he should be, especially given how he is acting. Things just feel a little off to me about this book, and I’m hoping it corrects itself soon.

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

Agents of Atlas #4

Babyteeth Vol. 3 Cradle

Batman and the Outsiders #7

Black Panther and the Agents of Wakanda #3

Detective Comics #1015

Far Sector #1

Firefly: The Sting OGN

La Voz De MAYO: Tata Rambo GN

Wonder Woman #82

Bargain Comics:

Automatic Kafka #1-9 – When this Wildstorm series first came out, I was not paying a lot of attention to it, and it wasn’t until much later that I became aware of the buzz building around Ashley Wood.  I got really into Joe Casey’s Wildcats Version 3.0, but never bothered with this series, which read like an alternate version of the Doom Patrol, focusing on Cliff Steele’s character. I enjoyed these comics, but they are very much a part of the deconstructionist trend of the early 2000s, and lacked heart and soul.  By the end, Casey is borrowing heavily from Grant Morrison, especially when he and Wood show up in the comic to meet the main character. There’s nothing in here that I hadn’t seen before.

War Stories #23-26 – Garth Ennis’s run of war comics at Avatar came to a touching end with this story about British pilots in Italy during the Second World War.  As with almost this entire run, Tomas Aira’s art really pulled away from my full enjoyment of this story, but it is one of Ennis’s more sentimental, and I enjoyed it.