The Weekly Round-Up #560 With Stray Bullets: Sunshine & Roses #42, Chu #2, Rogue Planet #4, Year Zero #4 & More Plus The Week In Music!

Best Comic of the Week:

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #42 – This book was solicited to come out in January of 2019, and it was worth the wait.  I didn’t realize that this was going to be the last issue of the Sunshine and Roses arc, and so much happens in this issue that I can believe that David Lapham spent a year on it.  S&R ended up being a pretty convoluted story about young love, stealing from gangsters, obsession, betrayal, and chosen family.  It had some odd moments, but (with the exception of the Amy Racecar stories) I loved it.  Lapham is a strong artist, but his biggest strength is in creating realistic and very fleshed-out characters.  This final issue opens with multiple groups of characters converging in a hospital that’s been set on fire, and it’s all pretty crazy.  I hope it’s not another year and a half before we see Lapham return to Stray Bullets, but if the quality stays this good, I’ll wait a lot longer than that for it.

Quick Takes:

Chu #2 – John Layman and Dan Boultwood’s new series, a prequel to Layman and Guillory’s Chew, continues.  When I read the first issue, I’d not caught the significance of the people throwing up and dying after eating chicken (it’s been too long since I read Chew and its focus on a post-chicken world), but that’s explored a little more here.  We get to know the Chu family again, as Saffron, the star of this title, learns that a hired killer is after her.  I’m enjoying this book, but I hope the focus stays on Saffron more than on Tony (who partners with John Colby for the first time here).

Daredevil Annual #1 – A little while ago, Chip Zdarsky brought back the Mike Murdock persona that Matt once used, when he pretended to be his non-existent twin brother.  Because of some stuff I don’t fully remember, Mike ended up being real, but not entirely real.  Now, he’s looking to make himself a full, retconned person (the fact that the cover shouts out One More Day should have been a hint as to what this would be like), with the help of some magic.  It’s a good issue, as we see how Mike’s addition to the Murdock family would have/did change things.  Zdarsky’s DD has been terrific, and this is another very strong part of that.

Family Tree #8 – This felt like a pretty weighty issue (usually this series flies by), as the second volume ends, and we see just what happens when a person turns into a tree in Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester’s world.  This series keeps giving us glimpses of a future where people are mostly gone, but this is the first issue that starts working to bridge that gap.  I like this series.

Ginseng Roots #6 – Craig Thompson’s autobiographical series about growing up working on the ginseng farms of Wisconsin has been a real pleasure.  This issue, Thompson tells us more about the life cycle of ginseng, focusing on the seeds and the methods used to help them grow into new plants.  At the same time, he focuses on his and his siblings’ adolescence, and how they navigated the challenges of high school and changes in their religious community.  We learn about Craig’s baptism and eventual homeschooling (due to the evils of a secular education), as well as the growth of his internal life.  This series is a masterpiece.

Hellions #3 – When it was first announced, I thought this was going to be a misfire of an X-book, but three issues in, I’m pretty intrigued by what Zeb Wells has going on with Hellions.  I hate the Goblyn Queen, but Wells makes her a credible threat here, as she commands some zombie-fied Marauders, while the team itself is a bit of a mess.  Havok seems conflicted about Madelyne, while Psylocke is stuck fighting Wild Child to prove that she is in control of the squad.  This is a pretty dark book (I don’t even want to talk about what goes on between Greycrow and Arclight), and I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Legion of Super-Heroes #8 – I loved this issue, as Brian Michael Bendis is joined by a different artist on almost every page (23 in all, including a couple of inkers).  The Legion face an attack from the General Nah of Rimbor, who wants them arrested for attacking him.  Along the way, each page focuses (more or less) on a single character, and we get a lot more information on some of the different Legionnaires.  I was pleased to see how some of Bendis’s Legion differs from the classic characters (Colossal Boy being a good example) in unique ways.  The art is great, and the book is filled with creators who don’t fit the usual house style that DC seems to mandate so often.  Among my favourites are Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Cully Hamner, Yanick Paquette, David Mack (his page is stunning), Fabio Moon (!!!!), and Duncan Rouleau (it’s been ages since I’ve seen his work).  This issue was fun, and exciting, and I very much look forward to the next one, which also has as many artists as it does characters.  I have to admit that I’m really growing into this new look at some of my favourite characters.

Rogue Planet #4 – Some of our heroes look poised to make it off the planet where they’ve faced some very strange alien threats, but there’s another issue to go in this series, so we all know they aren’t going to make it.  Cullen Bunn and Andy MacDonald are telling a good science fiction horror story with this book, and I’m enjoying it.  We’ve come to the point where we understand what’s happening on this planet, if not why or how, and things stay exciting.  

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #3 – We’ve gotten used to seeing Aphra turn on her companions in any number of elaborate ways, so it’s kind of cool to see it happen to her for a change.  Aphra’s new group of architects need to figure out how to get through booby traps and Ronan Tagge’s armed goons in this issue, but it is clear that not everyone is on the same side.  Since this book relaunched under Alyssa Wong’s direction, it’s been fun.  It doesn’t feel as meticulously plotted as either Kieron Gillen or Simon Spurrier’s runs yet, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t been able to see the whole story yet. 

Tartarus #5 – Tartarus has become a favourite series of mine, and I was pleased to see that it is continuing (although I’m not sure if artist Jack T. Cole is returning).  This issue tries to do a little too much though, as it wraps up the first arc in a swirl of action and big moments.  It’s very good, but could have been a little better paced.  That said, Cole’s art is incredible in this issue, and I’m really enjoying writer Johnnie Christmas’s vision and creativity in this series.

That Texas Blood #3 – I’m enjoying this new crime series from Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips.  It’s set in rural Texas, and the current arc is focusing on Randy, a young man who has just returned to town because of the murder of his brother.  He meets with an ex, and then just as he figures out which of his brother’s associates may have been involved in his death, they come looking for him.  Condon is still playing things close to his vest, so we are just starting to piece together a lot.  I like the Sheriff, who isn’t in this issue much.  Phillips does a great job of portraying the land, and making it feel forbidding.

X-Factor #2 – I enjoyed the first issue of X-Factor enough to add the title to my pull-file, and I continued to enjoy this issue, even though much of it is set in the Mojoverse, which is usually a deal-breaker for me.  I’ve always hated Mojo (although I think Longshot and Spiral are cool, but they aren’t in this issue) and most everything to do with him.  This issue has the team getting new uniforms (and Rachel finally looks a little better than she has for years), and a strange piece of mail that sets them on the trail of a Mojoverse murder.  The concept for this series is solid – that X-Factor investigates missing mutants – and the blend of humour is just about perfect.  I do think it’s weird that Kyle, Northstar’s husband, lives on Krakoa, which I thought was mutants-only, but maybe that will get explained down the road.  For now, I’m curious to see what Leah Williams and David Baldeón have in store for us in upcoming issues, and I hope the X of Swords event doesn’t trash the unique tone of this book.

X-Men #11 – This is an incredibly Jonathan Hickman issue of X-Men, and it works great.  The Cotati attack Krakoa, and it’s Magneto that leads the response, demonstrating why he’s such an asset to the young nation.  Hickman has him work in unison with Iceman and Magma in a very cool way, while Leinil Francis Yu cuts loose on the art.  I’m also glad that we got to see that Summoner guy again, and a few old favourites from the New X-Men/Academy X days.  I think this is the best Empyre tie-in I’ve read.

Year Zero #4 – I’m enjoying this unique zombie book (unique because it shows five stories in five different countries), but am concerned that there is no way writer Benjamin Percy can wrap up most of these stories in a satisfactory way with just one issue to go.  A couple of the storylines, especially the Afghanistan one, could be a year’s worth of comics on its own, if given space.  It’s cool to get such different perspectives on what’s become a pretty standard trope.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #47

Black Magick #13

Detective Comics #1026

Suicide Squad #8

Teen Titans Annual #2

Bargain Comics:

Dr. Strange #5&6 – I didn’t know that this latest Doctor Strange series was canceled already.  It’s a shame, because Mark Waid and Kev Walker were working very well together, and this most recent take on Strange, having him resuming his work as a neurosurgeon, and working with Doctor Druid, is one with a lot of story potential.  I hate the way Marvel will relaunch and cancel books on a whim (although I do understand that, post lockdown, they might be winnowing their line some).

Empyre: Savage Avengers #1 – I picked this up because I like Greg Smallwood’s art a lot.  Basically, Conan and Venom fight some Cotati in Mexico.  There are luchadores.  There’s really nothing else to say about this, but that the art is nice.

Fantastic Four #21&22 – One thing I’ve never understood is why the brief storyline that had Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk standing in for the Fantastic Four was treated as a big deal at the time, or why it’s remembered fondly today. From what I recall, it wasn’t very good (and I’m saying that as a fan of Art Adams).  Anyway, in these two Empyre tie-in issues, we are paying homage to that story, as Franklin and Valeria call in some help when they have trouble managing the two kids the FF kind of adopted at the start of Empyre.  It’s decent, but like Dan Slott’s whole FF run, it’s not very remarkable.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Pulp – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are masters of comics in general, and are whatever the level above master is when it comes to crafting compelling and absorbing crime comics.  Pulp tells the story of Max Winter, a writer of Western pulps in late 1930s New York.  His industry is going through some hard times, and even though his stories, about the Red River Kid and his friend Heck, a pair of gunslingers, are popular, his pay is cut and his new ideas are blocked.  Max is old and broke, and wants to give his wife a better life than he’s capable of.  What no one knows is that Max once lived a life similar to the Red River Kid’s, although he was not exactly virtuous.  He considers returning to a life of crime, just as a former Pinkerton detective who used to pursue him turns up, wanting his help in planning and executing one last stick up.  This book explores the popularity and support given to the German Nazi party prior to the beginning of the Second World War, and displays some of the parallels between the pulp magazine industry and the comics industry around the same time.  It also feels very relevant, exploring as it does a time when facism and anti-Semitism were viewed positively, to the point that the Nazis were able to hold a rally in Madison Square Gardens.  Brubaker is not usually a very political writer, but I couldn’t help but think he was saying a few things about the people turning out in large numbers to Trump rallies, and about the people who happily bankroll or otherwise support such things.  At the centre of this book is the hard reality of aging out of the world you know, and having to adjust and adapt to a much-changed world, as the young frontiersmen of the late 1800s must have felt by the 1930s.  This is a beautifully illustrated, and perfectly crafted book.  Highly recommended.

The Week in Music:

Marlowe (L’Orange and Solemn Brigham) – Marlowe 2 – This is the second collaboration between L’Orange, the master of dusty, old movie inspired beats, and Solemn Brigham, a frenetic rapper.  I’m a big fan of L’Orange beats, and find Brigham’s quicker pace and slightly hysteric flow an interesting pairing with them.

Oscar Jerome – Breathe Deep – Jerome is part of London’s incredible jazz scene, and on this solo album, he and his guitar range over a number of styles and influences.  There are some nice sun-dappled vibes on here, but there are also songs with deeper meaning, and some really good instrumental tracks.  Jerome is talented and versatile, and has a lot to say, both lyrically and musically, and moves from brash to delicate easily.  This is a good one.

Jaga Jazzist – Pyramid – Jaga Jazzist are a band from Norway that play big electronic jazz music.  This album is their first on the Brainfeeder label, and while featuring only four long tracks (ranging from eight to almost fourteen minutes), takes us on a journey through a few moods.  It’s pretty much in line with their other releases, but this one feels a little freer.