The Weekly Round-Up #537 With Tartarus #2, Alienated #2, Bang! #2, Undone By Blood Or The Shadow Of A Wanted Man #2, Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey #4, Star Wars #4 & More!

My best wishes to anyone staying home, self-isolating, and especially to anyone who is suffering from COVID-19 right now.

Best Comic of the Week:

Tartarus #2 – Tartarus might be my new favourite series of 2020.  This book, written by Johnnie Christmas and drawn by Jack T. Cole, is a very complex science fiction series that is centred on Tilde, a young soldier who has just discovered that her mother was a famous thief and outlaw.  There’s been an attack on the space station where she was serving, and now she is a suspect. She decides to get smuggled off the station when her friend makes plans to visit the planet below, Tartarus, to meet with a woman.  There’s a lot of chaos in this book, and the art is frenetic while still highly detailed. Christmas and Cole have created a fascinating world, and aren’t spending much time telling us the backstory. Readers are largely left to their own devices, and are just along for the wild ride.  It’s really good stuff.

Quick Takes:

Alienated #2 – This new Boom! series by Simon Spurrier and Chris Wildgoose is a great read.  Three teenagers (all outsiders in their own way) have been mentally linked by an alien being they discovered in the woods, which also ate/absorbed/teleported another kid.  Now the three have to figure out how to live with their abilities, and what to do with the being, which is kind of like a jellyfish dog. Spurrier writes teenagers very well, and has a good handle on their personalities.  Wildgoose is the right artist for this book. It’s a great character study series, which I always like.

Ascender #10 – The end of the second arc brings back a few characters from Descender, while others feel the need to sacrifice themselves to protect Mila, who makes her way to the spaceship that Telsa has left hidden for years.  This series is picking up speed, yet never loses its focus on character development. It’s very good.

Bang! #2 – Bang! is Matt Kindt’s latest wild take on genre writing.  He’s exploring the variety of 80s style pulp heroes, and this issue focuses on John Shaw, a barefoot detective with an endless supply of special inhalers that give him either super strength, super intelligence, or super senses for an hour at a time.  He’s constantly finding himself in conflict with Goldmaze, the terrorist outfit that he first encountered when they tried to take a cruise ship hostage. In this issue, Shaw has to deal with them when they try to use a train he’s on to deliver a dirty nuke into downtown Los Angeles.  Kindt is building up the character base still (last issue focused on a James Bond type), with the promise of a third character (with a sentient car!) next month. I’m not sure how long this is all meant to last, but I’m hoping it’s not just a five issue mini, as I see a lot of potential here.  I think Wilfredo Torres is a great choice for the art on this book. I usually like it best when Kindt draws his own work, but this collaboration makes a lot of sense.

Black Stars Above #5 – Lonnie Nadler’s miniseries at Vault ended up being a lot more confusing and metaphysical than I expected when I started it.  This kind of Lovecraftian horror doesn’t really do it for me, but I did admire the level of commitment Nadler brought to this story. It’s a uniquely Canadian historical horror story, and I appreciate it for that.  We don’t have a lot of genre work set here, and it was cool to be able to recognize the various nods to different points in our nation’s story that would go over the heads of many readers. Jenna Cha’s art made this book very creepy, and very successful.  

Captain America #20 – It’s a little wild that this book continues to have Alex Ross covers, but then pretty generic interior art.  This issue is drawn by Bob Quinn, who does a fine job in a Top Cow house style kind of way. Selene has taken over a town, and is running it on good old-fashioned American principles, which attracts the attention of Cap and his team.  The best part of this issue is when Sam reacts to those old-fashioned American ideals. This run has been good, but needs to coalesce, as it’s still not entirely clear what the various factions of the Power Elite are up to. The end of this issue was a bit of a surprise.

Die! Die! Die! #9 – Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple, and Chris Burnham return with their over the top violent series about a government cabal and its various agents and their lives.  I feel like this first issue suffers a bit from the problems that sequels often have. The first arc wrapped up very well, so now Kirkman and Gimple have to find something new for all the characters to do, and reintroduce them to readers.  Now that Senator Lipshitz has consolidated control of the cabal, she wants to use it to make positive change in the world (which includes an improbable method of implanting viable embryos into male sex organs as a way of ensuring universal health care).  What’s clear is that this book is as unapologetically crazy as it ever was, and that we are in store for something unpredictable and wild. I’m happy to see this book back on the stands.

Family Tree #5 – With this issue, which ends off the first arc of this series, Jeff Lemire takes a big swerve, but I don’t think I can talk about it without spoiling anything.  I’d forgotten that this book started talking about how the world ended, and now we see some of what transpired to make that happen, although we are still left with no clue how a little girl turning to wood, whose father did the same thing, is the catalyst for the changes to come.  Or why it’s happening to her. Lemire and artist Phil Hester have created a Vertigo-esque title that keeps things moving. This issue felt a little weightier than the last few, as well.

Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey #4 – Grendel Prime continues to search for a new home for humanity, but it’s not going to be on the ice planet where the only three aliens awake right now are determined to encase him in ice for generations, because “resources are limited.”  Matt Wagner is using this series to examine the damage that humanity does, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it feels weird to be reading it this week. It’s a very good series, and I’m happy to finally get a glimpse of Prime’s origins. I’m not even upset that this issue was so late, because it all looks so good.

Guardians of the Galaxy #3 – Al Ewing’s Guardians is a really unique thing.  He killed off a character last issue, and in the wake of that death, the team is divided once again.  We have an opening scene, where everyone learns of this death, told from Groot’s point of view, which means that everyone keeps saying “I Am ___” (even though Groot has been speaking normally of late), and later get a visit from the Heather Douglas from our universe, although I thought she was dead.  It’s Ewing, so I know to hold on to see where this all goes, and I find it interesting, but I’m not sure this would be an easy comic to recommend to someone.

Star Wars #4 – I’m liking what Charles Soule is doing with this book.  As Lando tries to rescue his friend from the Empire on Bespin City, Luke comes to a resolution about his conflicted feelings about being a Jedi, and Leia gains some firsthand knowledge she feels she’ll need.  Jesus Saiz is doing some great work on this title, and I’m left feeling very optimistic about this run.

Undiscovered Country #5 – I find that this title, co-written by Charles Soule and Scott Snyder, is starting to creak under the weight of the crazy ideas the writers have come up with.  I’m not fully sure I understand a quarter of what is going on in this comic, and am mostly interested in the character work, although this issue doesn’t have enough of that compared to the last two.  I think that at some point soon, we are going to need a little more exposition. Maybe it’s just me, and this stuff is clearer than I think it is? I was concerned from the beginning that Snyder might indulge in this Metal-like excesses, but hoped that Soule’s influence would help keep things a little more coherent.  Next issue will be the end of the arc, and then I’ll decide if I want to stick with this or not.

Undone by Blood or The Shadow of a Wanted Man #2 – I love this dual-narrative series by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, and Sami Kivelä.  It’s about a young woman who has returned to the small town where her family was murdered. As she investigates and looks for her revenge, she also reads a pulp Western novel about a retired gunman who is on a quest to rescue his son from old enemies.  Both stories are compelling and sharp, and remind me a lot of something David Lapham would write.  

Valkyrie: Jane Foster #9 – This is starting to feel like one of Jason Aaron’s untold Thor stories, as Jane faces an ancient Asgardian evil, and learns the identity of the person who released it, and who wants to use Thor to help him sow more evil.  It’s a decent enough comic, but I’m more interested in seeing Jane be the Valkyrie than I am in seeing her always interacting with guest stars.

Vampirella #9 – We are finally brought to the point in the story where Vampirella takes the plane flight that started this whole series.  We see her meet her psychiatrist for the first time, and learn the consequences of Ella’s dalliance with a nun. I love the complexity that Priest brings to this series, and am very happy to learn that it’s spawning a spinoff title, the Sacred Six, in a couple of months.  This is a very good, very involved comic that constantly leaves me wanting to reread it from the beginning, this issue in particular.

X-Force #9 – In a lot of ways, I feel like Ben Percy is the only X-Writer who is focusing on character growth and development at the moment.  He’s been exploring the PTSD-like symptoms of Domino and Colossus, and the weight that Beast feels in his new role on Krakoa. This issue shows most of the cast kicking back and relaxing for a bit, before Wolverine, Domino and Kid Omega get sent back to Terra Verde (apparently it’s been a few months) to see what’s happened there.  The place is a mess, and only Logan seems to realize that there’s something more to this than there appears to be at first glance. I like the way Percy writes Domino and Quentin, but I do sometimes wish the plotting on this title could be tighter.

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

Atlantis Attacks #3

Batman #91

Excalibur #9

Fantastic Four #20

Firefly #15

Outlawed #1

Starship Down #1

Teen Titans #40

Bargain Comics:

Annihilation Scourge – Alpha #1 – I was a little curious about this cosmic mini-event, but after reading this first issue, I’m good with the fact that I didn’t pick it all up when it first came out.  Annihilus and Blaastar have to work together to confront a new threat to the Negative Zone, which is coming from the Cancerverse. It feels like something we’ve seen before, and the revelation of who is running things in the Cancerverse was not welcome by me.  It’s a character I’m sick of. I don’t have much more to say about this than that.

Contagion #1-5 – What better title to read this week?  Contagion was a five issue weekly miniseries written by Ed Brisson that came out back in October.  It has a magical fungus from K’un-Lun make its way to New York, where, after an encounter with The Thing, it begins to absorb a number of heroes, including the rest of the Fantastic Four, Luke Cage, and some of the Wrecking Crew.  This is a very street level event, with appearances from Moon Knight, Punisher, Elektra, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Doctor Strange, and most importantly, Señor Magico, who I assumed we’d never see again. It’s a fun read, although it leaves me debating what’s more frightening, an invisible virus that could be on any surface, or a shuffling fungus that we could probably run away from?

Event Leviathan #1-6 – I don’t have much of a relationship with modern DC comics, but I was intrigued by this miniseries by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, as it looked like it might be pretty important, and it featured a lot of characters I like (many of which I didn’t know still existed in the post-Rebirth DCU).  Was this an actual event, with tie-ins? I have no way of knowing, as there were none advertised in the comic. Why was its name Event Leviathan, which sounds more like a working title? That I still can’t answer, as it doesn’t seem to have been for story reasons. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Bendis went full on Bendisian with the plotting and pacing of this story, and I was never entirely clear on what was happening.  Sure, I got that someone named Leviathan took over the organization Leviathan (from Talia Al Ghul, of all people) and then went around destroying other spy organizations, blowing up their buildings and yet still gaining their intelligence and assets, and managing to recruit their people, with the goal of making everyones’ email public. But why? I don’t want to reveal who Leviathan is, which I did think was pretty cool, or how he was connected to one of Batman’s League of Detectives.  Many individual issues were hard to follow, as Bendis likes to start the story in one place, and then back up to another, but without making clear throughlines to what has happened in previous issues. Batgirl gets talked about a lot, but isn’t seen until the end. Elongated Man, when he does show up, seems to have his shirt on backwards (unless the capital E is meant to be read in rear-view mirrors, like the front of an ambulance). And, in true Bendisian style, the story begins in some other book (a Superman one-shot that also lays the groundwork for the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson series), and then carries on into his Action Comics run, and now another Leviathan mini.  In all, this was a nice-looking disappointment.

Shuri #6&7 – I gave up on Shuri’s series, but saw that these two issues were made by Vita Ayala (whose independent work I’ve liked) and Paul Davidson, and had Shuri teaming up with Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel.  It was a solid little arc, featuring Graviton. It was worth picking up.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Murder Ballads – I remember enjoying the Murder Ballads FCBD comic from a few years ago, by Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece (it’s included in the back of this trade), so I wanted to see what the main event was all about.  Gabe Soria was joined by Paul Reinwand and Chris Hunt on art, for this impressive and enjoyable story about a failed wannabe record producer who is driving to LA with his wife (who wants to leave him), where he’s lied about having a job lined up.  He insists they stop over in Shreveport, where he discovers a pair of musicians in a bar and decides that they are his future. In order to record them, he goes hunting for Frank Bonisteel, a legendary musician, producer, and crazy hermit. To make everything work, this guy has to make some tough choices that end pretty violently.  This book reads a lot like a side story in Stray Bullets, where you can usually watch things go off the rails, but never predict just how bad it’s all going to end. It’s a solid comic, with decent art. I didn’t download the music by Dan Auerbach and Robert Finlay that accompanies it, but I probably should have.

Punisher Max Vol. 3: Mother Russia – I still don’t know why I never bothered reading Garth Ennis’s Punisher when it first came out, or later on, but it’s a bit of a treat to read now.  This volume has Nick Fury recruiting Frank on behalf of the US government, and sending him and a special forces operative into Russia to extract a six-year old girl who carries a deadly virus in her system.  This is a very post-9/11 story, including a cover story involving a hijacked airplane, but it’s also a very solid example of how good Ennis is at writing stoic characters. Frank and the guy have to infiltrate a missile silo in order to complete their mission, but since there’s only one exit, leaving is a problem for them.  Dougie Braithwaite really captures the middle aged Sylvester Stallone-ness of Castle in this volume, which also includes a couple of Bond-level villains. It’s good, entertaining stuff.

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