Gwen’s Back!

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Spider-Gwen #1

Gwen Stacy — the Spider-Woman of an alternate universe where she got bit by the radioactive spider and Peter Parker died after turning himself into the Lizard — is back on her home Earth after the events of the Spider-Verse crossover. The Vulture has made his first appearance and attacked beat cop Ben Grimm. Captain Stacy has been relieved of his position on the Special Crimes Task Force, which has been taken over by Captain Frank Castle. The Mary Janes have a popular song, but they’re not going anywhere when Gwen, their drummer, isn’t in the band. Can Gwen get her life back on track? Can she lure the Vulture out of hiding and take him down to improve her image with the public and the cops?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’ve really been looking forward to this comic. Everyone’s very excited about this version of Gwen Stacy, and it’s interesting to see how her supporting cast is starting to be filled out. My lone quibble: Man, that title is a stinker. What’s wrong with “Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman”?

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Gotham Academy #5

Olive learns that Killer Croc is hiding in the north wing of the school — and he’s actually watching out for her, as a favor to her mother, who was a patient in Arkham. She and Maps lose track of Croc, but enlist the aid of several other schoolmates to look for him. Olive also learns the secret of mysterious Tristan — he has the Langstrom Virus, so he sometimes grows bat wings and flies around the campus at night. Eventually, everyone gets together, finds Croc, brings him some food — and then there’s another unwelcome guest with his own set of bat wings.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This issue is nearly 90% crazy and 110% gorgeous. I love the fact that this whole things seems to be set in the animated Batman TV series and not in any comic books — Croc looks just like he did on TV, he uses all his best lines, some of the teachers seem to be from the TV show, and the whole thing is wonderfully free of excess angst, even for a teen romance comic.

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Daredevil #13

Things seem to be going well for Matt Murdock and Kirsten McDuffie — but Matt is second-guessing his relationship because he knows how most of his girlfriends end up. Foggy Nelson angrily tells Matt to stop pretending everyone else in the world is just a supporting character in his life (even though — shhh! — they actually are supporting characters. OMG, Inception!) and learn to trust that Kirsten is able to take care of herself. And then Kirsten does get kidnapped. But who is her mysterious abductor? Who helps Daredevil capture him? And who’s the secret mastermind behind it all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful comic, as always, and a nice little boost to Kirsten McDuffie’s badass factor — namely that she has her own rogues gallery.

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Masters and Puppets

Multiversity-Mastermen1

Multiversity: Mastermen #1

Welcome to Earth-10. After the Nazis discover a crashed alien ship with a tiny superstrong baby inside, they raise him to be a good National Socialist, and he helps Germany conquer the world in 1956. Sixty years later, the Kryptonian called Overman is still alive, but his cousin Overgirl is dead, he’s having nightmares about a mad haunted house stalking him, his wife hates him, and he’s having terrible regrets about the extremes Hitler’s madness took him to. And his fellow members of the New Reichsmen, including Leatherwing, Brunnhilde, Lightning, and Underwaterman, don’t care about the bodies their empire was built on. But a group of super-powered terrorists, brought together from groups persecuted by the Nazis, are calling themselves the Freedom Fighters, and they intend to bring the Nazi utopia crashing back to Earth.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The corrupted versions of the Justice League are appropriately dislikable, with the exception of Overman — while Superman has normally been the moral center of the Justice League, I’m not sure that a Superman raised from infancy as a Nazi would have much of a moral center left. Still, it all seems to work. I also love the revised version of the Freedom Fighters — these are people who you could make a very enjoyable comic about. And while I’ve mostly gotten tired of the rigid, scowling formalism of Jim Lee and Scott Williams’ artwork, it does seem an appropriate style for a story about Nazi supermen.

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Bitch Planet #3

I wasn’t sure about this going in — a full-issue focus on Penny Rolle didn’t interest me a lot because she seemed like such a complete stereotype — the fat, angry, black woman. But this was a lot better than I’d anticipated. We get a short history of Penny, from her childhood. She was taken from her loving grandmother’s home at a young age, mostly because her mother was considered unstable. She was abused in school by her whiter, more fashionable, more authority-worshipping teachers and fellow students. And later, running a muffin shop, when the irritations of Fox News bimbos, racist douchebags, dieting anorexics, and an autocratic society finally push her over the edge.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Again, loved this a lot more than I was expecting. Best thing about it is how just plain decent Penny is. Yes, she’s angry and violent, but she’s angry about the right things, and she’s violent with the right people. She’s not abusive, she’s kind to those who need it, and she’s proud of who she is. I want a whole comic series just about Penny now.

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Lazarus #15

The thoroughly rotten Jakob Hock has chosen another family’s Lazarus, Sonja Bittner, as his champion — because he knows she and Forever Carlyle are friends, and he wants to twist the knife. And for the sake of added cruelty, he demands that if Sonja wins, he gets Forever for his own, dead or alive. The battle is bloody and frantic — and Hock has even more plans for evil, whether he wins or loses.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Most of it is a long fight scene, but it’s an excellent fight, and at the end, the Carlyle family is in pretty deep trouble. Gonna be interesting to see what happens next…

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Going Beyond

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Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #5

First things first: Ladies and gentlemen, that is just about the worst comic book cover I’ve seen this year. Maybe all of last year, too. It’s a terrible, muddy, over-chaotic muddle with a style entirely different from the art between the covers.

Now that that’s out of the way — forget the cover. What we’ve got inside is a just plain wonderful comic book. Or rather, what we’ve got inside is a pretty typical comic — until the last page happens.

While Monica Rambeau experiments with her light powers by adopting the form of the Blue Marvel — in the altogether, as they say in the hipster circles — Dr. Positron, the Marvel’s mad scientist son, shows up for a short brawl with the Marvel, Monica, and Spider-Man before revealing that he’s found his brother in the Neutral Zone, but he’ll need help to get him out. Elsewhere, Power Man and White Tiger go hunting for whoever killed Gideon Mace and run into way more trouble than they can handle. And Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a meeting with Jason Quantrell, sinister CEO of Cortex Incorporated — and we learn who’s really behind Quantrell’s diabolic grin.

Verdict: Thumbs up. No spoilers, folks, but no kidding, when I read the last page of this one, I sat there in Flabbergasted Jawdrop Mode for at least 30 seconds. I don’t know if they can follow up with the promise of that last page, but I’m really looking forward to the next issue now.

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Red Sonja #100

Well, it’s not really the 100th issue of this series, but they figure they’ve got the 100th issue to feature Sonja. Sounds iffy to me, but it makes a decent anthology comic. We’ve got creators ranging from Gail Simone to Roy Thomas to Michael Avon Oeming and many more. We get Sonja facing off against spider demons and mutated Rapunzels, we get Sonja taking on an unexpected assistant in a battle against a monster, and we get Sonja meeting one of her own heroes and earning a few wishes.

Verdict: Thumbs up. An incredible variety of stories offered here — some classic hack-and-slash battles, some more introspective stories, and all of them excellent reads. It’s especially wonderful to see a story by Roy Thomas, Sonja’s creator.

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Batgirl #39

All of a sudden, everyone in Burnside is after Batgirl — whoever’s running the Hooq app is offering $20 million for her capture, dead or alive. And Barbara is being plagued by weird memory troubles, too. She enlists the aid of Black Canary, then realizes that her brain scan is part of Hooq’s programming — is Batgirl trying to kill herself?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice art and a much more relateable story. This comic’s emphasis on social media and smartphone apps is making more sense now, and it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.

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Silver Surfer #9

Galactus has come to the planet Newhaven, home to the last survivors of millions of worlds destroyed by the Eater of Worlds. Rejected by Dawn, the Surfer heads out to stop Galactus — by surfing the planet’s moon into his face! That gets Galactus’ attention, but he reacts by stripping the Surfer of his cosmic powers, leaving him powerless and adrift in space. Can anyone stop Galactus now?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Outstanding art, as always, from Mike and Laura Allred. Big ups for Dan Slott’s story, too — surfing a whole moon is pretty inspired, even if it’d pretty obviously be something Galactus would shrug off. I’m assuming Norrin will get re-powered next issue — but with this comic, who knows?

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Loki: Agent of Asgard #11

Everyone in Asgard is mad at Loki. Loki is very depressed. Old King Future Loki is very mean.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Just a bit too overdone on the woe-is-me stuff.

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Another Cancellation for the She-Hulk

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She-Hulk #12

Alas, another “She-Hulk” series cancelled before its time. Has there ever been another character so cool and fun who had so much trouble keeping a series going for the long haul?

The Big Bad has been revealed — the minor superhero Nightwatch was never actually a superhero at all. He cast a spell that sacrificed everyone in a small town to make everyone think he was a hero — and the only person who knew otherwise was George Saywitz, whose lawsuit became the Blue File. Nightwatch then cast other mind-control spells to make sure that anyone investigating the Blue File would come to a bad end — and he uses his mind-controlling abilities to make Jennifer attack Hellcat. Is She-Hulk going to kill her own friend? Will Nightwatch get away with everything?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Or is it down? This would’ve been a very acceptable end to a simple storyarc — the bad guy is revealed and defeated, other mysteries are solved, some others are not solved, everyone prepares for the next challenge. But for the end of a series? I think we needed more than this. Maybe not more punching — Shulkie did plenty of punching in this issue — but maybe a bit more lawyering, since that’s really one of the things that Jenn Walters does best.

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Sensation Comics #7

Our first story is a sci-fi mini-epic in which Wonder Woman accompanies a space station exploring the planet Venus — only to learn that there are giant monsters out there willing to attack the station and steal away anyone they can. Our second story focuses on Lt. Angel Santiago, a soldier in Afghanistan assigned to engage with Afghani women to encourage them to influence the men in their villages to oppose the Taliban. Lt. Santiago and her fellow soldiers come under attack by insurgents — and she starts seeing Wonder Woman helping them all survive. Is she hallucinating?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Both stories are really good, but they are especially cool for some of the smaller details. In the first one, with the visit to Venus, Diana has two different costumes — when we first see her, she’s just gotten back from a crisis in Karachi, Pakistan, so she’s wearing an incredibly cool star-spangled hijab. After that, she changes to a metal spacesuit version of her classic costume. And after that, she and a supporting character discuss the trials and tribulations of the modern superheroine — all very funny stuff. And in the second story, I love the fact that we never actually know if we’re operating in the DC Universe or the normal world — the story works wonderfully either way. And there’s some great attention to detail, too — several of the Afghans are depicted with red hair, which is actually not uncommon there. And the art in both stories — by Neil Googe and Bernard Chang — is exceptionally well-done. An absolutely outstanding superhero comic here, people — go pick it up.

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Lumberjanes #11

Molly and Mal are trapped in a lost world — with dinosaurs and everything! — with the shapeshifting bearwoman. And they’re going to be stuck there a really long time unless they can run a gamut of deadly threats so the bearwoman can get back… her reading glasses? And back in the real world, Ripley, April, and Jo are trying to earn some entirely mundane merit badges — and failing miserably at almost all of them? How can butt-kicking adventurers have so much trouble decorating cakes, making their beds, and dancing?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not as pants-wettingly awesome as some previous issues have been, but we get tons of outstanding characterization and lots of funny stuff.

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Ms. Marvel #12

Loki gets dropped off in Jersey City to look for the Inventor’s henchman and ends up inventing a scheme to get Kamala to fall for her pal Bruno — mostly against Bruno’s wishes — involving slipping Kamala a cheesy love poem and enticing her to come to the school dance. Things don’t go particularly well after that.

Verdict: Thumbs down. The story wants to be funny — it wants to be funny so very, very badly — and it just can’t do it.

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For Freedom

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Nat Turner

I’ve been meaning to review this for the last few years, always planning on posting about it during Black History Month in February, and every year, I get distracted and forget. Not this year — here’s Kyle Baker’s amazing graphic novel biography of Nat Turner, the leader of the bloodiest slave rebellion in the United States.

Turner was a slave living in Virginia. He’d taught himself to read, because it was illegal to teach slaves to read — slaveowners didn’t want educated slaves because they were more likely to rebel. Turner’s interest in reading was mainly so he could study the Bible, and his knowledge and high moral character had many fellow slaves referring to him as a prophet — he also had periodic visions which he believed came to him from God. And one of his visions, combined with a few convenient solar eclipses, eventually convinced him that God wanted him to lead a battle against the forces of evil. And in the American South of the 1830s, evil was definitely well-represented among white slaveowners.

When Turner and his accomplices began their rebellion, they initially stuck with quiet weapons — knives, axes, farming implements — rather than guns, and they didn’t just kill slaveowners — they killed women and children, too. They spared poor whites who they felt were as downtrodden as slaves, but they still ended up killing 60 people and amassing a force of 70 slaves and free blacks. Turner himself is believed to have killed only one person — he was extremely smart, but he was a lousy fighter. The rebellion was put down after two days, but Turner was able to hide out for several months. When he was finally captured, he tried and sentenced to be hanged. He was also beheaded, and his body was buried in an unmarked grave.

Kyle Baker’s book takes most of its text from Thomas Ruffin Gray’s book, “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” which included extensive interviews with Turner during his trial and before his execution. His art illustrates passages from the book, or interprets common episodes in the lives of slaves. There is very little dialogue or word balloons, and the art is entirely black, white, and sepia-toned brown.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Turner’s story is an amazing one — I’m really surprised that Hollywood has never made a major movie about him. Maybe his character and personality are too complex for film — he’s not a pure hero or villain — yes, he fought against terrific injustice, but he committed widespread murders. Baker depicts Turner warts and all — but I think it’s clear he sympathizes with him and his cause. (As do I — knowing what we know about the horrors and monstrous injustices of slavery, I don’t blame anyone for rising up against it.)

It’s a stark and brutal story, frequently very violent. Turner and his rebels massacre families, ambush people in their homes, behead children — their actions shock us, and I think, rightfully so. But it’s still very hard not to sympathize — Turner’s actions aren’t sugarcoated, but it’s also made very clear that he’s living in a terribly unjust world, where slaves were subjected to horrible punishments for crimes like reading and playing drums. Slaveowners were said to be terrified of slave rebellions — and a lot of that terror may have been because they knew they deserved whatever the slaves would do to them.

If you only know Baker’s work from his wonderful “Plastic Man” series from a few years ago, this story will probably knock you out of your socks. His cartoonish style on DC’s comedic series is nowhere to be seen here. The art is, at turns, rough-hewn and furious, and then lushly rendered and gloriously lit, sometimes crudely emotional, sometimes shockingly beautiful, and sometimes both at once.

It’s a fantastic story about an unsung American freedom fighter, beautifully illustrated by one of our great graphic storytellers. You bet you should go pick it up.

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Behind the Mask

Shutter9

Shutter #9

Kate Kristopher has met way too many siblings lately, and her newest one, Kalliyan, wants her to activate a mystic gate to a strange alternate world called Prospero. Only Kate — or her younger brother, Chris — can open the gate, and Kalliyan plans to take an armed expedition across to get what she wants from them. Kate has some other ideas, though, which Kalliyan may not like very much.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but I got a lot more enjoyment out of the prequel with the Prospero Society in 1889 Paris. It had all the weirdness and menace that the current storyline is presently lacking.

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Ghosted #17

Jackson Winters and his team of ghost hunters use a “white room” to travel to the scene of the German wedding massacre from last issue. But they find Markus Schrecken and the Maestro waiting for them, along with a captive Edzia Rusnak and a bunch of angry ghosts. He wants to force Jackson to steal death itself for him — and some more betrayals from his own team puts Jackson in deep trouble on this one.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Also not as good as some previous issues have been, but you gotta give this one some points for the backstabbing and scheming going on here — it’s just a perfect synthesis of heist-caper shenanigans.

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Southern Bastards #7

We continue with the backstory of Euless Boss, current crime boss and coach of the Runnin’ Rebs, back when he was just a lowly high school student desperate to play for the team. Last issue, a lowlife shot Euless in the foot, keeping him from finally getting to play for the Rebs. He slowly recovers, throws his thuggish father out of his life, and makes it back onto the field, where he’s a superstar player, getting all the big hits and never quitting, even when his leg’s broken on the field. But he’s still not getting any offers from any college teams — his only way out of the hell of Craw County, Alabama. Is Euless going to be stuck here forever?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I can barely believe it, but this storyarc is actually making me root for the loathsome Coach Boss. He just can’t seem to catch a break — and I think I’m looking forward to seeing how he’s going to get back at everyone who’s been holding him down.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Here’s a decent sale on a bunch of digital D&D books, from the boxed set all the way to the new fifth edition. Y’all go get your gaming on.
  • Y’all need some keen patriotic slogans? North Korea has got you covered.
  • Really interesting story about some small African villages that are using their mosquito nets for fishing, which puts a crimp on the fight against malaria and may also be harming fishing.

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Rising to the Heights, Crashing to the Earth

AstroCity20

Astro City #20

We continue Quarrel’s story. During an attack by the alien supervillain Imperion, Quarrel gets into a tight spot and is rescued by the speedster MPH. And since she and Crackerjack are on one of their periodic breakups, this leads to a relationship between the two. It lasts a ridiculously short time because Quarrel is absolutely awful at relationships because she focuses all her energy on training and none on stuff like remembering birthdays. Quarrel and Crackerjack are still getting their butts stomped periodically because they don’t have powers and they’re getting older and slower. But Crackerjack has a plan to make it all better, if it doesn’t make everything worse.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but not a real enthusiastic thumbs up. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong, with lots of excellent characterization and dialogue, but it’s really here mostly to advance us to the final issue of the storyarc. There’s no real reason for Quarrel and MPH’s relationship, other than to fill time. A lot of this is stuff we’d already seen talked about in the previous issue, too. But the cliffhanger is a pretty good one — by which I mean, a pretty bad one…

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Captain Marvel #12

Lila Cheney teleports Carol back to her spaceship — and Carol finds the place deserted, Tic and Chewie missing, the AI computer powered down, and the gravity shut off. When she finally gets the computer on, it’s just in time to take out another attacking spaceship. And she then learns that more aliens had kidnapped Tic and Chewie, and her best chance to catch up with them is to take a shortcut through something called the Endless Envelope. But the shortcut may not end up being very short at all…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful art and very nice sci-fi action — not sure I’ve ever seen someone use the trick Carol does with the ship’s forceshields, and the Envelope’s gimmick is pretty sweet. I still wish a bit more had happened in this issue…

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Secret Six #2

Well, the disembodied voice demanding the six supervillain captives pick one of their number to die spends the whole issue demanding that the six pick one of their number to die, so either it’s a really slow minute or a really patient disembodied voice. But the group manages to escape and beat up their captors a bit — and they apparently decide to stick together for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: Ehh, I ain’t real keen on it. The art is all kinds of messy. The newer characters are still complete cyphers, while Catman’s personality gets much weirder — his dislike of confinement makes sense; his dislike of getting wet is just odd. And there’s so very much attention given to the new Ventriloquist and her dummy, who are both just so utterly unlikeable. I hope this series improves a lot soon…

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Up on the Housetop

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Ms. Marvel #11

It’s the final showdown between Ms. Marvel and the Inventor. The cloned Edison-brained super-genius in the body of an oversized parakeet has, well, genius and robots on his side — Ms. Marvel has a few normal allies, Lockjaw, and her own shapeshifting powers on her side. And it still may not be enough…

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a punch-up, with a few interesting twists in it, including a bendy girl wedged inside a robot, a teleporting dog, and a bunch of normal hero-worshiping kids underfoot. It’s a fun story with great art and a nice focus on Kamala’s growing reputation as a hero.

SensationComics6

Sensation Comics #6

Our first story follows Diana’s attempt to obtain a phoenix egg as a birthday gift for Queen Hippolyta — with a devastating ambush by the Cheetah to complicate things. Our second story gives Wonder Woman and Big Barda a chance to beat up a bunch of robots — and to tangle with the Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Can Diana find a peaceful way through the crisis?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Really nice art on both stories. The first one reads like a full-length storyarc in less than a full issue, and it’s pretty great. The second one is shorter, but maybe more fun — it’s wonderful to see these classic characters, all in a story that makes sense.

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The Tragedy of the Goon

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The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #1

The Goon has finally had enough tragedy and stress in his life. The woman he loved turned out to be a harpy — a literal harpy — who was playing him like a fiddle. The mobsters he’d asked to help him now want to kill him. And the Arab’s band of necromancers seem to be stronger than ever. So he’s on a roarin’ rampage of revenge. And drinking to much. And occasionally maiming his friends. The Zombie Priest says the Magpies have won — they’ve broken the Goon’s spirit. Franky thinks the opposite — breaking him down is just going to doom them. The Goon and the Priest cook up a plan to catch the Magpies’ witch, who helps them escape every time, but the scheme just pushes the Goon closer to the edge.

Verdict: Thumbs up. We’ve got the makings of an amazing tragedy here — is Eric Powell actually working his way toward no longer creating this comic? Gotta say something about how great the art is here, and it really shines in small details, like the worried expression in all eight of Spider’s eyes, and the way Franky has never looked so old.

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Velvet #9

Velvet has kidnapped a man named Damian Lake from an insane asylum — Lake used to be the head of ARC-7’s intel division before he went mad after seeing everyone in his code station in Paris murdered by the KGB. Does he have the information Velvet needs about who framed her? Or is he playing another game altogether?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not nearly as spectacular as some of the other comics in this series, but the art is great, and we’re clearly building our way toward something big.

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Horror in Space

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Nameless #1

Seems like it’s been a while since we saw Grant Morrison do a straight horror comic, and that’s what he’s got for us now, with Chris Burnham contributing the artwork. We’re looking at a pre-apocalyptic world, where cult symbols and dream horrors are bringing about murders and suicides as some people slowly grasp that something monstrous is on the way. Our lead character is a man called Nameless — he’s given up his real name so no one can get magical power over him. He specializes in invading dreams and stealing things inside — and he’s got his sights on a special Dream Key, which is guarded by the ominous Veiled Lady and her minions in anglerfish masks. He evades them, he gets captured, he evades them and gets recaptured, and when he finally gets away and turns in a 3d-printable design of the Dream Key, he meets his benefactor and learns what this is all about: Earth has one month to live, and Nameless has to become a mystic astronaut to help prevent it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful, weird, disturbing, fun stuff. Burnham’s art is fantastic, and Morrison turns in one heck of a mind-tripping horror story…

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #6

Pearl Jones, Skinner Sweet, and Calvin Poole head for the last known hideout of the Vassals of the Morning Star, but get ambushed and captured by a trio of exotic vampires who bring them to meet the Vassals. Our heroes tell them they’ve met the Gray Trader, and the Vassals reveal that the Trader used to be called the Great Traitor — a human hero who joined the most evil of the vampires to become its protector and agent. The Russians know the Trader’s master, the Beast, is about to emerge and make war on the living world, and they’re willing to start dropping nukes to get rid of him. Are the American vampires willing to go into space to save the world? Or has the Beast already infiltrated the Vassals?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Ahh, I had missed this series more than I expected. We’ve got excellent art and writing, fun action, seriously spooky backstories for the bad guys — and it’s gonna be fun to see our vamps riding a rocket into space, ain’t it?

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