Monthly Archives: July 2016

Dark Night: A True Batman Story

One night while walking home from a dinner date, Paul Dini was mugged and beaten within an inch of his life.  Twenty-three years later, he decided to turn the story of the attack, his life at the time, and eventual recovery into a graphic novel with art from someone who is no stranger to Batman’s adventures (or worthwhile collaborations with Brian Azzarello), Eduadro Risso.  The end result is alternately frightening, funny, indulgent, and life-affirming.  It’s a bizarre mix of tones and styles that shouldn’t work when combined in one volume.  I think the reason Dini and Risso are able to get away with it is because they know how to modulate them.

We see this in the beginning as Dini frames the story as an informal recounting of his story to a mounted handheld camcorder.  He talks about his life growing up where his vivid imagination brought the characters he was most familiar with in books, comics, and cartoons to life.  This leads him to a very successful job later in life at Warner Bros. Animation, working on “Tiny Toon Adventures,” and “Animaniacs,” before joining the project that would define his professional career:  “Batman:  The Animated Series.”

Dini’s vivid imagination also provides the central narrative conceit of this story as Batman and all of his A-list villains show up at various points to offer their distinctive brand of commentary on his life.  Batman/Bruce Wayne is the voice of reason and determination that eventually gets the writer off of his ass and back job at work.  The Joker offers mean-spirited yet funny observations regarding Dini’s love life and friendly (for a given definition of the term) encouragement to wallow in self-pity after his attack.  Poison Ivy, Riddler, and Penguin also show up to offer their two cents at a given moment.  It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but one that’s cleverly used and written.  It only starts to feel indulgent when Dini brings out Mr. Freeze to comment on emotional detachment for a couple of panels.  Or has Harley Quinn show up for bit at the end, because of course she has to be here.  He created her after all.

Indulgence is a key part of this story as well since it’s not just about the mugging.  Aside from the bits we get about Dini’s early years and time at Warner Bros. Animation a great deal of time is also spent on what was the sad nature of his love life at the time.  Some of this is necessary for the story and his character, but I really don’t think we needed to know that he sliced himself up with the Emmy he won for “Tiny Toons” out of despair for his self-image regarding the opposite sex.  Even if such an image is leavened with the knowledge that he had to go in for a tetanus shot afterwards.  Most disappointing is the fact that after all this talk about the women in his life he didn’t get, we only get a passing mention of the fact that Dini is now happily married with a kid.  Then again, I’m sure his wife had something to say to the man himself about this.

Other indulgences in “Dark Night” are far less maudlin and actually entertaining.  Seeing Risso illustrate Dini’s attempts to get a girlfriend as a “Road Runner” cartoon is definitely fun and inspired.  Also, the writer’s pitch for an episode of “Batman:  TAS” involving Morpheus and Death was awesome.  It’s disappointing that it never came to be, but maybe if the right person at Warner Bros. reads this…

As fun as these diversions are, they don’t really have any relevance to the core narrative involving Dini’s attack and recovery from it.  This is the most interesting material in the volume, from the harrowing nature of the assault, as the stark shadowy art from Risso really drives home its harrowing nature and the writer’s own feeling that he was going to die.  The self-pity and depression that Dini sinks into afterwards is also palpable and fully articulated thanks to the commentary from the “guest stars” here.  His recovery also works because we see that it was more than just Batman telling him to feel sorry for himself, Dini also had to fall a little further before he could pick himself back up again.

All of this is good, and I wish that more time had been spent on it.  “Dark Night” is ultimately a worthwhile tale of recovery, but one that rambles and goes down several paths that aren’t that relevant to the story it’s telling.  It’s a credit to the talent of Dini and Risso that most of these digressions are still interesting and entertaining.  I’d like to read the story of the creation of “Batman:  TAS” that the writer touches upon here from the same creative team.  Assuming that it can be done with more focus than what they demonstrate here.

Assassination Classroom vols. 9 & 10

Does Nagisa go a little crazy after the setup from the cliffhanger in the previous volume?  Yup.  Does he manage to rein himself in and deliver some satisfying comeuppance to the main antagonist from this arc?  You better believe it.  “Assassination Classroom” isn’t a series that will be remembered for its unpredictability, but rather its ability to deliver on the setups it promises.  It’s also one where things won’t get too dark as Shonen Jump titles will never go that far.  If it looks like they are, then that just means we’re in “final arc” territory.  The rest of vol. 8 is a mix of amusing diversions (Koro-sensei tries to play matchmaker for the class) and setup for future storylines.  After all, whatever happened to the person who taught Class E before Koro-sensei showed up?  It finishes with a well-delivered bit of filler as nerdy otaku Takebayashi is tempted with being able to rejoin the rest of Kunugigaoka’s students so long as he badmouths his former classmates.  The power of friendship trumps all in the end, as is Jumps remit, but does allow for some quality villainy from Principal Gakushu and his son.

Vol. 10 opens on a story that spotlights another of Koro-sensei’s weaknesses.  His weakness for pudding!  Then it segues into a mini-arc that has Karasuma teaching Class E about the virtues of parkour while their teacher reveals another weakness — for trope-y sob stories!  No time is wasted as we move into another arc that first has Koro-sensei trying to prove that he’s not a (complete) pervert before Shiro and Itona show up to take out the alien.  Only… things don’t go as planned and Itona is left at the mercy of his tentacles and Class E.  Does the power of friendship triumph here?  Only as much as Koro-sensei loves his nudie magazines.  I know I’m simplifying things here, but mangaka Yusei Matsui actually does a pretty good job of fleshing out Itona’s backstory and character here to make his motivations up to this point believable.  He also gets bonus points for having Terasaka and his fellow numbskulls be the ones to bring Itona over to the side of Class E.  In a way that actually feels credible and not a manipulation to make us like them more.  It’s quality work all around in these volumes that makes me look forward to their adventures in babysitting for vol. 11.

Atomic Robo vol. 10: The Ring of Fire

(No, this isn’t the start of a new trend.  This is what happens when I forgot to put the post I banked for Sunday up on Sunday.  Uh, in case anyone was wondering.)

In his afterword, artist Scott Wegener describes this latest “Atomic Robo” miniseries as an answer to the question of “What would it be like if the ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ franchises did a crossover?”  I think he’s greatly overstating the presence of the “Bourne” franchise in this equation as a better description of this series would simply be “Atomic Robo” does “Pacific Rim.”  Shaking off the middling diversion that was the previous miniseries in short order, “Ring of Fire” finds Task Force Ultra — the organization that was formed by Majestic 12 after they seized Tesladyne in vol. 8 — having to deal with a worldwide outbreak of Biomega (read:  Kaiju).  Even with all of the resources at their disposal, they still find themselves behind the proverbial eightball against this threat as they desperately try to get enough Titan mechs and pilots ready to combat this menace.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for Ultra, though, as they’re still painted as the bad guys in this situation despite their intentions.  Ultra is still on the lookout for the members of Tesladyne who escaped their takeover, and it’s this motley group — Bernard, Lang, Vik, Foley the intern, and more — that has to find a way to bring Robo back (which is easy) and find a solution to the Biomega crisis (difficult enough to make up for the ease of bringing Robo back).

If you can get past how much this particular story pays homage to “Pacific Rim” then you’ll be in for a good time.  The action and pace are frantic but never exhausting, the science talk only adds to the drama, most of the jokes hit, and the end result is that “Ring of Fire” feels like a welcome return to form after what we got in vol. 9.  While Brian Clevinger’s writing is mostly spot-on, this his really Wegener’s show as he gets to come up with lots of dynamic Biomega and Titan designs and then have them fight each other with the kind of energy I normally expect to see from the likes of Stuart Immonen.  Even if the end of the volume shows that someday we’ll have to stage an intervention regarding the “But it’s not quite over…” endings Clevinger serves up, what we get here makes me excited to read “Atomic Robo” again.

Sex Criminals vol. 3: Three the Hard Way

The previous volumes of this series have carried an albatross around their metaphorical necks.  (It’s a reference, not a weird sex thing.  Though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was turned into a weird sex thing given how this title rolls.)  An albatross by the name of Myrtle “Kegelface” Spurge.  It’s understandable that series called “Sex Criminals” would have a kind of “Sex Cop” as its main antagonist, but she goes about her business in a way that feels counterproductive, unfair, and more than a little vindictive.  I have an immense dislike for the character, is what I’m saying here.  So I was surprised to see that writer Matt Fraction managed to humanize even a little bit in this volume.

Still out to get Jon and Suzie for their bank-robbing by way of orgasmic time-stopping antics, Myrtle has now set her sights on establishing a relationship with Jon’s therapist.  This is so that she can get the doctor’s notes on Jon and find a way to really put the screws to the miscreant’s actions.  Problem is that she actually starts to have feelings for Dr. Glass and the deception leading to the actual theft really starts to grind on her.  Oh, and there’s whatever toll all this is taking on her current marriage to consider as well.  

This adds some much needed depth to the character and makes her less of a plot device whose purpose in the story is simply to obstruct the progress of the main characters.  I still hope that she’ll be shown the error of her ways — How much trouble would it have been to just sit down with Jon and Suzie and explain to them the rules for how their powers are regulated? — but her development here is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the title characters’ romantic drama continues to engage, with plenty of sexual drama between the old and new characters to help keep your interest throughout the volume.  Vol. 3 also features what may be the title’s most self-indulgently meta sequence as Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky go back and forth (Well, Fraction  does.  Chip gets a fur coat, nods off, and talks about how “Howard the Duck” funds his coke habit.) about what would’ve been a particularly on-the-nose argument between Suzie and former porn star/current human sexualit professor Ana Kinkaid about their respective life choices.

If you’ve merely tolerated the creators’ meta hijinks up until now, then this sequence may be a dealbreaker for you.  This four page sequence puts a hard stop on the plot as the issues with having Suzie and Ana argue are hashed out with a fair amount of ridiculousness.  Personally, I loved it.  It was easy to imagine how this argument would’ve played out in the comic and how much of a downer it would’ve been.  Fraction and Zdarsky’s approach is a lot more fun with its wicked sense of self-deprecation.  From Matt’s “tortured artist” mindset, Zdarsky’s self-absorbed indifference, the gun-shaped doughnut, and the “How could this be masturbatory?” climax, it’s a master class in how to dodge a necessary plot point and still convey its essential information.  Some might see the whole sequence as terminally self-indulgent, but I’m not one of them.

The volume ends on a high note as several of the major players converge together and begin to hash out their issues.  With a minor involvement of fisticuffs.  It sets up a potential Anti-Spurge coalition for vol. 4, assuming these people can get over their differences.  As well as the fact that one of them is capable of generating a tentacled magical girl monstrosity with their semen.  I’m down with that, as well as any further character development that moves Kegelface in the direction of “actual, relatable human being.”

(BTW, all of the issues here were originally published with XXX-variant covers.  None of them are reprinted here, so you’ll have to go buy the actual issues if you want to see these covers.  Or, you know, just Google “Sex Criminals comic XXX covers.”)

The Heroic Legend of Arslan vol. 4

I thought I knew who the antagonists were in this series going into this volume.  You have Silver Mask, now revealed as Hilmes — son of the murdered King Osores, who was the secret power behind Lusitania’s invasion of Ecbatana and has a serious mad-on for its King Andragoras and (by extension) Arslan.  Yet Andragoras isn’t on the side of the angels either, as he was the murderer of Osores, and his parenting skills are right up there with Gendo Ikari’s.  There’s also Innocentis, the king of Lusitania whose girth is exceeded only by his foolishness.  A recent arrival to the cast is Duke Guiscard of Lusitania whose association should mark him as one of the bad guys, but whose cunning and pragmatism make it hard for me to find any reason to dislike him.

As it turns out, the real antagonists here are outright villains — the fanatical followers of Yaldabaoth, Lusitania’s religion of choice.  One of them, Bodin the priest, has been kind of a background character in the previous volumes sporting the wide-eyed look of a crazed zealot who enjoys nothing more than throwing infidels on a pyre.  He gets a more prominent role after a fellow high-ranking member of his faith is murdered under mysterious circumstances and then demands that 10,000 infidels be slain as recompense.  While this leads to some marvelous trolling on Guiscard’s part, it stops being a laughing matter when the Yaldabaoth Templars arrive in town.  This group slaughtered 250,000 men, women, and children in their last campaign and they are determined to have the king see the rightness of their ways once again.

Bodin’s zealotry may come off as some over-the-top villainy, but it’s not hard to see how his kind of thinking would mellow out over a thousand years to the kind of religious partisanship we see in this country today.  But that’s just my opinion.  It does make me eager to see how the title character and his group will deal with these characters when they face off against them, even if it seems likely that they’ll be dispatched swiftly and decisively.  You see, even if these fanatics of Yaldabaoth make for good bad guys, their one-sided villainy is out of place in a work from Hiromu Arakawa.  It’s all just shades of gray as she showed us in “Fullmetal Alchemist,” though humanizing these crazies is probably too much to ask even from a mangaka of her skill.

War Stories vol. 4

Garth Ennis won’t be able to write comics about all of the stories to be told in WWII.  He continues to give it his best try in the two arcs in this volume that detail some drastically different experiences in the European and Pacific Theaters.  “Our Wild Geese Go” has the writer showing us what it was like for Irishmen who technically deserted their army to go fight in the war.  While the Nazis are still the bad guys here, the scars left by Ireland’s bloody history of nationalism threaten to undo the unity of one particular squad.  “The Tokyo Club” is an exclusive one with some very specific requirements:  First, you have to fly escort to bombers headed to Tokyo from Iwo Jima.  Next, you have to make it back to base alive.  Then, you do it all over again in another day or two.  Neither story is particularly exceptional by Ennis’ accomplished work in the war story genre.  However, they do benefit from his standard attention to detail in recounting these specific experiences and characterization that helps put faces on them.

Where they’re let down, in part, is in the art from Tomas Aira.  I didn’t say much about his work in the previous volume because he handled the tank combat action well and was dealing with a relatively small cast in both of the stories he illustrated.  Aira is still good with the action and the scenes that have the Irish infantrymen under fire and the pilots braving the skies to Tokyo are the most striking in the book.  The problem is that his characters tend to have a generic look about them and it becomes difficult to tell the supporting cast apart after a while.  It’s kind of a problem in the first story, and a bigger one in the second with its expanded cast.  Maybe the monthly grind was getting to Aira at this point, but I found myself wishing for someone like Steve Dillon to come over and show us how to distinguish a roster like this.  The first two volumes of Ennis’ “War Stories” at Vertigo boasted an impressive roster of artists in their pages.  I’d say it’s time to take a cue from that format and bring in a new artist with each arc.  It couldn’t hurt to give Aira some time off so he can show us what he can do when he’s not delivering a book a month.

Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia

I’m taking a break from talking about manga on this Monday since it’s July 4th and I’ve had this in my “to review” pile for well over a month now.  Brian Wood’s first creator-owned series for Dark Horse had its problems, but still managed to run for thirty issues.  “Rebels” is his ground-level look at the people who fought in the Revolutionary War and it lasted for all of ten issues.  I would’ve liked to have seen it last longer because it’s main story, about the exploits of taciturn rebel Seth Abbott, is pretty entertaining.  After a brief look at his childhood growing up with a hardassed father, we see Seth jumping into the thick of the revolutionary spirit fighting against land-stealing Redcoats, sinking a British granite transport, and overseeing the hauling of cannon several hundred miles overland during the winter.  It’s good high adventure, but Wood also infuses every step of Seth’s journey with the politics and upbringing that inform his present-day decisions.  Which don’t always turn out to be the right ones, as his wife will attest to.  Seth emerges as a character worth following through the war, and Andrea Mutti’s detailed, gritty pencils represent the period and the character’s journey well.

It would’ve been nice if the ten issues in this collection had been given over entirely to Seth’s journey.  There’s some awkwardness as the story jumps forward seven years between the first and last issues to show us the beginning of his adjustment to the post-war era.  I was involved enough in Seth’s journey that I wish Wood had focused entirely on it in in these ten issues.  Instead, we also get other stories of uneven quality about other people contributing to the revolution in their own ways.  The story about Sarah Hull, who fought on the field at the Battle of Bemis Heights, is quite good with its focus on the role of women in the military still feeling relevant today.  As for the others, stories of a rebellious poster-printer, Seth’s encounter with a former slave, a Native American who has loyalties to his people and the local militia, and a British citizen who chose to sign up for the regiments rather than go to prison, they really needed more space to reach their full potential.  Especially the last one.

Better to have given the space to fleshing out Seth’s story in greater detail is how I felt about them in the end.  As it is, “Rebels” is an interesting look into an era that doesn’t often get any significant focus in comics.  It’s also one whose potential was not, and will likely not ever be, fully realized.

Meet Your Newer Avengers

When it comes to raising the stakes in superhero comics, Jonathan Hickman took things about as far as you can go with his runs on “Avengers” and “New Avengers.”  The fate of the world wasn’t at stake in those titles, it was the fate of the entire multiverse.  Whoever was going to follow in his footsteps on those titles was going to have to make a choice:  go bigger, go smaller, or go different.  Mark Waid and Al Ewing are writers smart enough to know that going bigger was not the smart option here (if that would even be possible).  Waid, with his history in character-driven superheroics on “The Flash” and “Daredevil,” went with the “go smaller” option on “All-New All-Different Avengers vol. 1:  The Magnificent Seven,” as most of the drama comes from how his eclectic team tries to get along with each other.  Meanwhile over in “New Avengers:  A.I.M. vol. 1 — Everything is New,” Ewing is picking up on one of the threads from Hickman’s run after Roberto “Sunspot” DaCosta bought out the terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics and re-branded it Avengers Idea Mechanics.  He’s “going different” as this team is facing off against transformed crystal-headed citizens of Paris that are acting as a phone to the afterlife and a cthonic wizard of the fifth cosmos.

Let’s focus on Waid’s series for now as it’s ostensibly the flagship of the “Avengers” line. This time out the team is made up of a couple of familiar faces (Iron Man, and Vision), new characters in heroic roles (Captain America, Thor), and promising young heroes (Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Nova).  For their first set of adventures they’ll be mixing it up with interstellar conqueror Warbringer, several generic superthugs, and Mr. Gryphon.  He bought the old Avengers Tower and is harboring a secret connection to one of the team’s oldest and biggest foes.  Art duties are split between Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar, so the book’s look is solid.  Kubert brings his expected high-detail and high energy approach to the first arc, while Asrar’s smoother and more textured work is quite appealing in its own way.

As the first outing of the “All-New, All Different” era, this is still a pretty middle-of-the-road effort.  Warbringer is just an angry space alien, though Gryphon at least has general creepiness and villain connection to fall back on.  What Waid does bring to the table here is a good handle on the cast.  There are some fun bits here, such as Sam Wilson trying to get help from a cash-poor Tony Stark when faced with buying Girl Scout cookies in front of everyone, Thor kissing Cap right after a battle, and the general animosity that develops between Nova and Ms. Marvel.  That last bit is the most interesting thing in the volume as their initially awkward first meeting evolves into a complete breakdown of interpersonal relations.  You don’t see most “first meetings” between superheroes go down this badly, but Waid provides some believable reasons for why that happens here.

It’s also the one thing here that really goes against superhero convention.  Those of you expecting the frequently brilliant twists that Waid served up on his “Daredevil” run are going to be disappointed here.  What we get here is a superhero story that gets by on its art and interactions between the cast more than anything else.  This could be the result of Waid finding his footing with the format and possibly wanting to deliver a standard “Avengers” story before striking out to deliver something really different.  There’s room for improvement here and I believe that the writer is capable of delivering it.

When it was revealed that Sunspot bought A.I.M. during the “Time Runs Out” arc, it was one of those moments that seemed so crazy and yet so right.  I mean, they are a collective of scientists who are looking for the freedom to perform their experiments and the money to do that has to come from somewhere?  So why not have a billionaire superhero secretly buy them out and then re-direct their ambitions towards more productive ends.?  That’s what Ewing is following up on in the pages of his “New Avengers” title and the first volume is crazy good fun.

In addition to the business with the crystal-headed Parisians, and “Cthulu” of the fifth cosmos, the writer also has Hulkling becoming the King of Space, a time-traveling Avengers team from the future, and a terrorist organization known as W.H.I.S.P.E.R. being headed up by The Character Formerly Known as Ultimate Reed Richards — you can call him The Maker now.  Oh, and Hawkeye has been brought onto the team to act as a spy for S.H.I.E.L.D.  Sunspot knows this because Dum Dum Dugan, his liason with the organization, told him straight up because he didn’t want to treat the man like an idiot.  It was a nice touch.

One of the things that Hickman’s run benefitted from was the feeling that every volume was part of a much larger plan.  All of the crazy big ideas from his run also fed into it and gave it a real sense of momentum as things went on.  I’m not sure if Ewing has a larger plan here, but the “big ideas” he has are sure fun to see in action.  “New Avengers” delivers some great over-the-top superhero action with high stakes and a real sense of fun about things.  I mean, Squirrel Girl and her friend Tippy-Toe are key members of the team and they feel like they really belong here.  Ewing also has his characters come up with clever solutions to the problems they face, repeatedly over the course of the three main stories here.

Yeah, the six issues collected here can be broken down into three two-part stories.  They’re paced impressively well with the action not feeling overly compressed.  I’d honestly like to see more writers take a cue from Ewing in this regard.

Gerardo Sandoval handles the art for most of this volume, only stepping aside for Phil Noto and Mark Bagley to tackle some narratively-appropriate story beats in the final issue.  Sandoval’s style is as wild and crazy as the stories he’s illustrating, so I found him to be a perfect fit here.  My only complain was that the coloring from Dono Sanchez Alamara was way too dark and subdued for this series.  “New Avengers” is about big, insane, superhero action and it should have colors that pop off the page with energy.  This is not something that happens with the colors Alamara imbues this series with.

Ewing is also writing the new “Ultimates” title, which I understand is acting as something as a sister title to this one.  Only on a galactic instead of a (mostly) planetary scale.  So it could be that he’s trying to take up the mantle of being Marvel’s “big ideas” guy now that Hickman has left to focus on his creator-owned work.  His first volume of “New Avengers” shows that he’s off to a promising start in that regard, and I look forward to reading more from him at the company.  As for Waid, his work on “Avengers” isn’t bad.  I was just expecting better.  Either I’ll get that from subsequent volumes, or just have to content myself with his and Chris Samnee’s new “Black Widow” series.

Image Previews Picks: September 2016

“The Wicked + The Divine” is pulling a fast one this month and is publishing a one-shot, “1831,” that won’t be included in vol. 4.  Which is also featured in these solicitations.  In the past, I’d have to see about picking up this issue at a convention or a trip to a comic shop.  Now that I’ve gone and embraced digital, I can just download this from comiXology for $4 when it comes out.  Or wait for it to be featured in another Image or Gillen/McKelvie sale on the site.  Or wait and see if it’s collected in vol. 5.  Or wait and see if they do more of these and collect them all in a separate volume.  A real set of first-world conundrums if there ever was one.

As for the issue itself, it takes place in the late 19th century where a group of Romantic poets gathered in a mansion one night on Lake Geneva.  Because I’ve read “The Unwritten,” I can guess with a fair amount of certainty that this was the night when Mary Shelley came up with the idea for “Frankenstein.”  How this connects to the recurrence of the Godhead — if this story even takes place during one of their times on Earth — I cannot fathom.  Given that it’s coming from Gillen, with art from Stephanie Hans, I’d certainly bet on it being good and clever.

Surgeon X #1:  The title character is a renegade surgeon in the midst of an “antibiotic apocalypse” and trying to stay one step ahead of the fascist British government.  It comes from documentarian/writer Sarah Kenney and artist John Watkiss.  They’re not the biggest names in this series:  It’s being edited by Karen Berger, the editor who gave us DC’s Vertigo imprint and oversaw its output during its golden years.  It’s thanks to her that titles like “Sandman,” “Preacher,” “Transmetropolitan,” “The Invisibles,” “Y:  The Last Man,” “Fables,” “And I could go on…” but when she takes the time to personally edit a new series, I’m going to take notice.

Glitterbomb #1:  Jim Zub gave us a comedic take on “D&D” tropes with “Skullkickers,” action-fantasy based on Japanese culture in “Wayward,” and now he’s serving up some Hollywood-infused horror with this new title.  Farrah Durante has found herself in the place that no actress wants to be:  middle age.  Frustrated at an industry that prizes youth above all else, she winds up summoning a watery demonic force to extract revenge against those who have wronged her.  Sounds promising — for a miniseries.  Given how his previous two series had more going on than their initial solicitations indicated, I would think that to be the case here as well.  Or it could just be a mix-up and this is actually a miniseries instead of an ongoing title.

Hadrian’s Wall #1 (of 8) :  Except that they do still indicate what’s a miniseries and what isn’t in these solicitations.  Okay.  This one is from co-writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, and artist Rod Reis.  An astronaut is murdered on the ship Hadrian’s Wall and pill-popping detective Simon Warren is dispatched to find out whodunit.  Among the suspects:  His ex-wife.  I’ll admit that the “pill-popping” and “ex-wife” bits sound a little contrived, but it’s a sci-fi murder mystery.  “The Fuse” has shown us that these things can be great fun, with the right amount of worldbuilding thrown in.  Let’s hope that Higgins and Siegel have taken all the right lessons from that series and left out the talking killer as well.

No Mercy #10:  One thing I didn’t get around to mentioning in my review of vol. 2 is how neat it was to see the narrative split up between various characters here.  That’s not a new thing, but the fact that some of the kids here will be going home and having to deal with the media circus and other fallout is.  It’s kind of like having dessert served along with dinner, where both are delicious meals based around the suffering of teenagers in and returning from a foreign country.

Black Road vol. 1:  Brian Wood returns to telling stories about “Northlanders,” and brings Garry Brown, artist of most of “The Massive,” along for the ride.  A Vatican official is murdered while under the care of one Magnus the Black.  While trying to find out the reason behind this, Magnus uncovers a secret that could change the balance of power in Europe.  I’m intrigued, and the cover suggests that this is going to be the feel-good adventure of the year!

The Discipline vol. 1:  In which Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez try to show me that they can deliver better than what they served up with “The Names.”  The story is ostensibly about a frustrated Manhattan housewife who, post-seduction, finds herself embroiled in a conflict between two otherworldly factions.  As this is coming from Milligan, it’s likely a metaphor for something else.  Whether or not it’ll be any good… Well, it’s Milligan, so flip a coin?

Grizzly Shark:  Some would say that Ryan Ottley’s decision to take time off from art duties on “Invincible” to tell the story of the world’s most feared animal is a self-indulgent waste of his talent.  I’m not one of them.  I’ll be plunking down my hard-earned money to see what kind of craziness Ottley can get up to with this ridiculous setup (Grizzly Shark kills people, lots of them, bloodily).  I don’t ever want him to fully leave “Invincible,” but he should feel free to take time off to follow his artistic muse.  So long as it leads in weird-ass directions like this one.

Head Lopper vol. 1:  The Island or A Plague of Beasts:  I’ve seen his covers, and two-page stories in “God Hates Astronauts,” but writer/artist Andrew MacLean served up an interesting post-apocalyptic tale in “Apocalyptigirl.”  In it, one girl tries to survive on Earth while trying to get some encrypted information.  There’s beauty and bloody violence in her story, and it’s never less than absorbing thanks to MacLean’s expressive yet minimalist art.  Here, he takes on a “Conan”-style sword-and-sorcery setup with Norgal (the title character) and the nagging head of Agitha the Blue Witch as they set out to slay a sorcerer who controls the beasts that have overrun an island kingdom.  I was sold before I found out this was a 280-page collection at a $20 cover price.

East of West vol. 6:  I’ll get around to reviewing vol. 5 eventually…

The Fade Out Deluxe Edition HC:  …much in the same way that I’ll get around to saying my piece on the entirety of this series at some point as well.  Man, I didn’t think that I’d wind up putting it off for this long.  But other stuff just came up that I wanted to podcast about and…  Well, this deluxe collection of the entire twelve-issue series is advance-solicited for October.  Guess I’d better get around to talking about vol. 3 and the series as a whole before then.

Tokyo Ghost vol. 2:  Writer Rick Remender has said that the tenth issue of this series wraps up the story he wanted to tell for now.  I’m not sure if that’s PR-speak for, “It’s a convenient stopping point that also doubles as a series finale,” or, “Murphy is so goddamn hot right now that I knew I had to wrap this up in ten issues because there’s no way he’d be able to come back and do any more with the way his schedule is.”  I like to think it’s the latter.  Because Sean Murphy is a goddamn incredible artist and I doubt I’d be talking about this volume if it wasn’t for the utterly stunning work he did in the first one.