SECRET WARS #4 — Well! This is a little bit of the old not-fucking-around-from-the-get-go. Really, the cut of Thanos’s eyeballs as he dodges the Mjolnir swing in that first splash sets the tone for a simply masterful issue that grabs the reader and never lets go even as the narrative goes careening over the cliff. That initial battle is juxtaposed with an even tenser situation as Strange continues explaining the new status quo to the newcomers, with a chilling, “Long may he wear his crown,” early on to let you know just where we’re at. And you’ve got to love Victor’s interaction with his Minister of Science, Valeria Richards, as well as his reaction to finally seeing Reed. Interesting that Sue doesn’t recognize her dearest. I guess that’s to be expected; I assumed her heart had just dropped to sub-zero temperatures after #1. Then there are a couple of legitimately surprising fatalities in the final scene, there. They seemed quite sudden but are certainly the escalation we need here at the halfway point of the series. So far, this has delivered on every level, paying off years of set-up that Hickman has meticulously packed in to dozens and dozens of issues of AVENGERS with Ribic/Svorcina providing strong storytelling that always puts narrative first throughout. Strong material.
A-FORCE #002 — More greatness after the excellent debut issue. We cut right to it here with the Sub-Mariner squad encountering a portal that’s a really nice excuse to Photoshop in a bunch of art from other series realities (which I am totally not saying in a bitchy way; it was a delight to run into Skottie Young’s Li’l Cyclops vs. Li’l Cap in this context). Then cut to this mysterious Eternity Girl sort of figure that Nico found at the end of last issue. She’s still mute and appears to maybe be causing these projections, or at least the Sentinel that she magics up faster than you can say ASTONISHING X-MEN #1, but she’s got a lovely smile. And it looks like Medusa’s aggression is not as passive as it initially seemed, big surprise. This one was over too quick but lovely while it lasted.
PRINCESS LEIA #005 — I toooootally spaced that this was only supposed to be a mini-series and got kind of punched in the face by the last page here before it made me remember. But, man, do Waid & the Dodsons stick the landing. Just a perfect resolution on every level: accepting the traitor, culminating the relationship with Evaan, using oration to negotiate orbital reinforcements, and a hell of a speech passing on the torch to shut it down before Leia gets her own hero’s welcome that Dodson’s panel composition locks right into the end of EPISODE IV, bringing us full circle to the first page of this series in a very cool and natural way. This ending was perfect and majestic and punched me in the face, two out of three qualities that Leia herself can certainly be said to embody.
DARTH VADER #007 — Oh man, I love how this series is suddenly intercutting so heavily with the main title. What pure-blooded STAR WARS fan’s heart is not going to race at the idea of Vader performing a forensic examination of the Luke Skywalker vs. Boba Fett battle in Ben Kenobi’s hut on the southwestern edge of the Dune Sea? That’s just easy money, right there. I didn’t care quite as much after that opening, I guess by definition just because it’s hard to really top, I guess, but Gillen brings it right back up to a gasp with the reveal on that last page. Dr. Aphra, you are not playing the odds, ma’am!
BEST OF WEEK: GRANT MORRISON’S 18 DAYS #1 — Simply put, as if such a thing were possible, this is Morrison’s rendition of THE BHAGAVAD GITA by way of Kirby. Though Jeevan J. Kang’s style is closer to more of an Alan-Davis-level photorealism, it must be said. That combination pretty much blows my critical faculties out the window because all of these ingredients are things that I love. MAYbe I would be crazier for this if Scioli had taken a break from his eye-bleeding efforts over at IDW and was dropping more seething insanity into this, panel by panel? I don’t know, it’s pretty hard to imagine improving on this. Wonderful details like the caption, “Dollars and cents, the new gods.” That’s ridiculous. Morrison does a magnificent job of boiling down and clarifying the stakes without minimizing them for readers unfamiliar with the source material. This is a battle for nothing less than all of creation across all of space and time with billions of lives, born and unborn, living or dying based on the outcome. It is fought by millions of superwarriors and assassins, demons and monsters, giants and dark spirits, but at its heart is the story told to Master Archer and Most Feared Superwarrior Arjuna by his charioteer in the middle of the battlefield in the final moments before the carnage begins, a charioteer who just happens to be Krishna, the Living God. I can’t believe that this book exists, but I’m so happy that it does.
ONYX #1 — Ha ha, I am glad that Brother Ryall just comes out and says it in the backmatter because while I was reading through and enjoying all of that gorgeous Rodriguez staging and those facial expressions, a little voice in the back of my mind kept muttering, “Jesus, he reeeeeeeally went for it with the ROM obsession at long last.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’re enough differences and the basic Spaceknight premise is elastic enough that this series looks like it’s very much going to be its own thing. Of course, anything with art by Rodriguez/Fotos is going to be an absolute feast for the eyes, and Ryall does fine work setting up an ensemble with nine named characters, not counting the titular protagonist. I got screwed up with, I think, a misattribution on Page Five: in the first panel, the general asks Cosmo a question, but then in the next panel, Maps (not Olive’s friend from GOTHAM ACADEMY) answers the question. Which isn’t a big big deal, but that’s an unfortunate place to break reader momentum when we’ve just dialed it up hard enough to learn the names and faces of that monster cast on the previous page. A small quibble, though, this issue provides plenty of soaring spaceknight action and energy-blade slicing, and I am thrilled to support these creators’ original work.
8house #1: Arclight — Well, if you were a fan of Graham’s PROPHET, especially in the first year or so before it went completely nuclear cosmic apeshit, you are going to love this. The narrative tone is almost identical, even though we’re earthbound. Churchland’s impressionistic and muted, almost bleak, palette conjure up some alternate Renaissance populated by aliens and hooded tentacle-faced true loves who just want to get their bodies back. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this first offering from 8house, but this is a perfect initial outing. I feel like the minority of comic book fans who do latch on to this are really going to be freaks about it, it’s got “cult hit” written all of it, wafting through its panels, which I mean in the most complimentary possible way.
WE STAND ON GUARD #1 — I’m still smarting hard enough from that UNDER THE DOME horrorshow and remain not charmed enough by SAGA that this was the first BKV release in forever that wasn’t an automatic buy for me based on his name alone, but Skroce/Hollingsworth more than pass critical threshold to make me want to give it a look. And they are some pretty pages. Vaughan does a solid enough job setting up the family dynamic before raining down fiery death in the opening scene. I’m onboard with the cut to the modern-day when the little girl is a little bit older and much more badass, but then dude just absolutely fucking ruins it with that pitiful Superman diatribe. It’s almost like Vaughan’s got his whole schtick down to this inane formula: insert acerbic spin on beloved pop culture property into conversational monologue (a la the diner scene from RESERVOIR DOGS), add “fuck” or “motherfuck” because it’s cool, then juxtapose it with some really cool “oh shit” image calculated to make the reader go, “Oh shit, he went there!” No, no, no. Superman is not “a motherfucking Canadian.” That is a very forced and really almost terrible analogy that I could almost forgive, even with the guy calling him “Supes,” for God’s sake, until that splash that supposedly pays it off but that I just straight-up hated. I might give this one another shot, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that I have very likely parted ways with the guy who had me on the edge of my seat a few years back every single month with Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA. Which is a shame and I feel bad about, but this isn’t working.
AIRBOY #2 — Just when the first issue has primed us for what to expect, here comes James Robinson’s dick flapping in the wind while he runs down the street. Hinkle continues to really excel and sell these pages. That was a deft Previously… on the opening page. It’s a really nice choice to give the title character a full (though of course relatively flat) palette and keep everything else monotone (or whatever it was CASANOVA used to be, I forget now, but this look is forever CASANOVA to me). Of course, things have to take more of a, shall we say, moral plunge, but I’m glad to see Airboy lifting us up out of the situation and apparently throwing the creators into his own war-torn world. Bring on #3, which is going to by definition just HAVE to feature less dick and dick-sucking, though we live in hope.
CHEW #50 — Well, damn. I can’t believe that all this went down this issue. I mean, I know it’s a milestone issue and all, but damn. I’m not going to say one word about it other than terrific work from The Mighty Layman & Guillory, maybe even a cut above their usual magnificence. All of this was earned, and I really can’t wait to see what happens next.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12 — Well, you know what, I read all those names across the top of the cover and then thought to myself throughout what a lovely job McKelvie/Wilson were doing on the interiors, so mission accomplished as far as bringing in Kate Brown to maintain a consistent artistic tone. In hindsight, I can see how at least it’s very much not Wilson’s palatte, but good show for Brown throughout. Aw, I miss YOUNG AVENGERS. As for content, this one didn’t move me so much. It seems like the creators love it much much more than I do. Which is important, the passion, but it’s not punching through, for me at least. You know what, though? PHONOGRAM Volume 3 on August 12th. At long last. All will be right with the immaterial world. We are living.
JUPITER’S CIRCLE #6 — Wow, Millar drops the hammer here. Pretty bleak. This most recent two-parter lacked depth and I’m not sure if that’s just because Kyle is a more shallow character or this arc just isn’t firing as hard. Or maybe I’m not drinking heavily while watching MAD MEN concurrently with this book’s release anymore? That was definitely a pretty spiffy way to dial in when this one was getting started. This one’s still quality but coasting more than a little bit here as we round the turn.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #8 — Has it been awhile since #7 came out? I feel like I missed an issue. This one was lovely all on its own, though. Albuquerque/McCaig serve up some delicious horror and Snyder keeps tension tight and everything humming right along.
ACTION COMICS #42 — I am digging on this depowered seriously scrappy take on the big guy. Forgetting he’s invulnerable and such. What hijinx! Pak & Kuder do terrific work making the mostly previously unknown supporting cast stand out. I like that Dante fellow! Quite a closing scene, there. You kind of knew it had to go that way but were holding out hope regardless. More quality from this title. We expect nothing less! Also, respect to Dan Hipp for the terrific TEEN TITANS GO! Variant covers gracing this issue and the following.
DETECTIVE COMICS #42 — Apparently Manapul’s out on art? Kind of a limp way for his partnership with Buccellato to expire. I was enjoying what they were just getting up to here with the whole Gotham Central POV on the Gordon Batman situation. The art fill-in by Fernando Blanco even pairs up with Buccellato’s colors into more of a Phillips/Breitweiser zone, which is maybe even an intentional match with the narrative tone that’s a bit more Brubaker than what we’ve been getting. Certainly sorry to see Manapul go, if that’s actually the case.
ZERO #18 —Good call bringing in Tula Lotay to shut it down. This was certainly a beautiful David Lynch fever dream. Down to the inexplicable appearance of wild horses, even. Narratively, this series really let me down on the momentum that was roaring through that first volume. I don’t know if it’s because Kot got so many other gigs since then and spread himself too thin or just grew out of caring about this or what, but while I wasn’t like put off or anything by this ending (I liked the lack of dialogue and overall tone), I closed the issue and just shrugged, Well that’s over, which I certainly hope doesn’t happen at the end of old Bucky Barnes Across Space & Time here in just the next little bit.
SATELLITE SAM #15 — We pretty much hit the, so sorry, climax last issue, so this one’s more of an epilogue, all that it’s got to do is provide closure for the surviving characters and set them up for their off-panel lives to come. Which it does a fine job of. Fraction’s rhyming first-page character descriptions are charming enough with a punchline for Stanhope that made me chuckle. Nice to see Michael and Gene come out okay. I could have used a little bit more agency attached to Libby’s final outcome, though it was a nice beat when she and Michael called each other by their full names. I actually had to turn back through when I got through to the end to make sure that I hadn’t skipped a couple of pages in which Kara Kelly didn’t get such short shrift. She deserved a little bit more. Chaykin pulled out all the stops, though, and continued his masterful work throughout. The switch to color for The Sign was a terrific touch. All told, this series didn’t overall punch me as hard in the face as it seemed like it was going to based on the promise of the first issue, but it stayed true to itself and delivered a seedy filthy good time, which is all any of us could have ever asked for. Mazel Tov!