That we currently have two ongoing series from Warren Ellis after years of miniseries and other short projects from the writer is kind of remarkable. Unfortunately, it’s clear with this second volume of “Trees” that “Injection” is clearly the stronger of the two. Fourteen issues into this series and it still has yet to fully click in a way that has me anticipating the (promised) third volume. As the title implies, there are two main threads in this volume: The first has biologist Jo Creasy, the sole survivor of the events in the Arctic from vol. 1, being recruited by the British government to investigate the Tree in the Orkney Isles and find out if they have anything to fear from it. As for the other, it involves the new mayor-elect of New York City, identified only as Vince, and his efforts to get some justice done regarding the police who opened fire on unarmed civilians as they tried to secure the downtown city waterfront the day the Trees came down. That, and deal with the increasing demands of the “constituency” who helped him get elected.
Dark Horse’s publication of videogame related artbooks continues apace in this month’s solicitations with The Art of Mass Effect: Andromeda. “Andromeda” is the first game in the series after the original trilogy and will take the player out of the known universe to set up a colony in the Andromeda system. While I’ll definitely be picking up the game, I’ll probably be giving a pass on the artbook. However, I am grateful for its existence as the original solicitation text for this book mentioned that it’ll be published simultaneously with the game on March 21, 2017. That bit of text has since been removed, but given that the game was delayed to the first quarter of 2017 this date still seems pretty likely. So to whoever screwed up there, thanks!
Also in “Mass Effect”-related comics solicitations: The series jumps on the current adult coloring book craze with one of its own. I’m even less interested in this than the artbook. That said, I have to give the person who wrote the solicitation text credit for invoking one of the more (in)famous lines from the series with, “I’M COMMANDER SHEPARD, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE COLORING BOOK ON THE CITADEL!” Well said, sir.
This is what happens when have a creator who clearly loves “Conan” but doesn’t want to actually do an official story featuring the character. Instead, creator Andrew MacLean gives us a burly, irascible, white-bearded master swordsman who carries around the severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch, and bears the nickname “Head Lopper” for his done-in-one fighting style. He prefers to be called Norgal, thank you very much. If the fact that he carries around the severed -- and very conversational -- head of a blue witch didn’t clue you in to the fact that he has led a colorful and adventurous life, the story from this volume will drive that home for you. Here, Norgal announces his arrival in the island realm of Barra by cutting off the head of the sea serpent that guards the port of its biggest city. This attracts the attention of numerous parties, including the island’s queen who asks that he kill the Sorcerer of the Black Bog who is responsible for the plague of beasts upon the island. Norgal agrees and soon finds that he is in for a great deal more trouble than he initially signed on for.
Brian Wood wrote seven volumes about vikings, Norsemen, and other denizens of Northern Europe in “Northlanders” with only one real dud among them. (That would be the misguided supernatural fantasy of “Metal.”) Even if it’s not an official continuation, fans of that series can essentially think of this series as vol. 8. All of the hallmarks of that series are here: A gruff lone wolf protagonist forced to interact with a society he doesn’t understand/trust, an increasing Christian presence as they convert these pagan lands, and literal gut-wrenching violence. The protagonist this time out is one Magnus the Black. He’s a veteran warrior who lost his wife in an attack on his village years ago and now makes his way from town to town acting as a guide, sword for hire, or both for whoever has the coin. This time around, it’s the Vatican who want him to escort a cardinal up the title road. The journey starts off easy enough, but Magnus soon finds out that a very powerful man wants this cardinal dead. It also turns out that the man of the cloth is also harboring a secret himself: a guardian angel who is willing to go to the ends of the Earth to see his will carried out.
This volume, and I assume the rest of the series, carries the subtitle “A Magnus the Black” mystery. I don’t know if it was Wood, artist Garry Brown, or someone at Image who came up with it, but I’d suggest any potential reader just disregard that. It sets up some expectations that the title doesn’t really live up to. While there is a mystery involving just what an exiled bishop is up to in these parts, Magnus isn’t really much of a detective. He’s an interesting protagonist in how he tempers his brutality with street smarts, though not much of a detective. Particularly in the way that he finds himself at least one step behind everyone else in this story. Still, even if the mystery part of this story isn’t all that solid, Wood still manages to deliver an engaging story of people carving their own way though the harsh and unforgiving climate of the north. Brown does a lot of the heavy lifting there as his rough and jagged art really helps to sell the struggle of these characters. The story is incomplete with this volume, but in addition to fans of “Northlanders” I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a good viking story in comics, or fans of “Vinland Saga” to keep them occupied while waiting for vol. 8 in December.
The fact that the previous volume of this series happened to be a disappointing read was bad enough. It stung even more when you consider that new volumes of “A Bride’s Story” only come out on an annual basis. So I’ve basically spent most of the last ten months worrying that this great series had lost the thread and would only continue to disappoint from here on out. Vol. 8 is certainly a step back in the right direction, but we’ve got to deal with a bit of a hangover first.
Yes, I’m just as surprised as you that we’re only getting this now as opposed the Turtles’ heyday in the 90’s. That may be a good thing. Can you imagine how this crossover would’ve read during that era where it was style at the expense of all substance? With veteran Bat-writer (and creator of BOOM!’s excellent “The Woods”) James Tynion IV at the helm, it actually winds up reading much better than that. The setup is simple enough: An accident with a trans-dimensional portal winds up sending the Turtles and Splinter, along with Shredder and a portion of the Foot Clan, to Gotham City. Naturally, Shredder sees the city as being ripe for conquest, while the Turtles and Splinter seek to stop him by the means they have available to them. Both groups wind up on Batman’s radar after the Turtles interrupt a raid by the Foot on a WayneTech lab. From there (after the necessary introduction via fisticuffs) the Caped Crusader teams up with the Heroes in a Half Shell, to take down Shredder who finds willing ally in his quest in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul.
As an excuse to facilitate the team-up in the title, the story itself is fine. Tyinon has a good grip on the Turtles’ individual characters and has some fun in their interactions with Batman. From Donatello fawning over the Batmobile, to Michelangelo riding on the giant T-rex in the Batcave, to the Turtles introducing Batman to the greatness of pizza, he clearly knows what fans want to see. Still, the most meaningful bit for me was when Batman gets some time with Raphael (who is having another one of his angry moments) to explain his origin and what the fight against crime means to him. I guess in my old age I want to see the crossovers between franchises as I like have just a little bit of depth to them. This miniseries does have plenty of style thanks to Freddie E. Williams II’s art and how he has this knack for making the characters appear larger-than-life. His designs for the “mutanimal” versions of Batman’s rogues gallery are also pretty cool as well.
The whole crossover is as tasty as a regular peanut butter cup and about as filling too. Buyer beware, however: The actual story here is a little over 120 pages long with 50 (FIFTY!) pages of variant covers from Williams and other artists. I didn’t mind that too much because I got this collection for $6 during a sale from ComiXology. It’s currently available only in hardcover, but I’m not sure I’d be feeling as amenable to this crossover as I was if I had paid full (or even half) price for it.
As uneven as Bendis’ output has been recently, it’s still nice to know that he can still write a good “Spider-Man” story. Mostly. With the Ultimate Universe having come to an end with “Secret Wars,” Miles Morales is now part of the Marvel Universe proper. He’s still attending Brooklyn Visions Academy and trying to find a way to balance his superhero career, both solo and as a member of the Avengers, with his school life. The problem is that he’s failing pretty bad at it, and his awful grades prompt his mom to get her mother, a no-nonsense tough-love type, involved in getting Miles’ life as she sees it back on track. If that wasn’t bad enough, Miles’ appearance as the new Spider-Man on the block is getting some attention from the old Amazing one’s villains. Specifically: The Black Cat and Hammerhead. With this new guy being one big question mark to them, they want to find out what his deal is and if he needs to be taken out of the picture before he becomes a real problem to them.
Miles’ troubles at school and home are the stuff of classic superhero drama and yet they still manage to entertain here. Bendis is clearly invested in the material as his protagonist’s reactions to all this drama feel genuine. There are also some good moments here between Miles and his best buddy Ganke. While the latter serves an invaluable role as a confidant to his buddy, his fanboy nature does get the better of him here when he tries to force a friendship between Miles and Fabio “Goldballs” Medina (imported over from Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” run). Really, all of the human drama in this volume is rock-solid and is the real core of this series.
That’s also true because the superhero action pretty much fizzles out at the end. The fight with Blackheart in the beginning is fine as a means to give Miles a big win for the start of his new series. As for the business with the Black Cat and Hammerhead, it really feels kind of pointless by the end. There’s nothing wrong with having Miles face off against some of the members of Peter’s old rogues gallery, but there were clearly easier and smarter ways for them to get the information they wanted. It does give artist Sara Pichelli a chance to show off her skills with superhero action, even though she’s just as good with all of the human drama. The next volume does show more promise in balancing the human/superhero aspects of this series as Jessica Jones shows up and the story deals with the fallout of “Civil War II,” so that’s good to know.
I’m not done with Brubaker yet this week. To be honest, after the writer decamped to Image along with Sean Phillips to do “Fatale” and their subsequent creator-owned titles, I didn’t think we’d ever see another volume of “Criminal.” It had a very good six-volume run over at Marvel, but no ongoing storyline that needed to be continued. Also, their Image titles sell better than “Criminal” ever did, so it’s not like there’s a real financial incentive to bring it back. I’m glad they did as “Wrong Time, Wrong Place” gives us two more quality stories about the tragically violent Lawless family.
“Wrong Time” spotlights Teeg Lawless, doing a 30-day stretch for an outstanding bench warrant after he was busted in a bar fight. Which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with the heist he just took part in for local mob boss Sebastian Hyde. Things are going well for the man, until people start trying to kill him. Surprisingly, these people aren’t out to get him on Hyde’s order. Teeg’s a survivor, if nothing else, so the question here becomes who gave the order to take him out? Revealing that he lives isn’t a spoiler because the back cover gives away the fact that Teeg is still alive by the time the second story, “Wrong Place,” comes around and we get to see what life was like when he goes out on a job and brings along his son Tracy, as the driver. This is Tracy’s story as he learns a predictably hard lesson about getting to know other people at a time like this. Whether or not anyone has to die in order for him to learn it, well, that would be telling…
Brubaker offers an illuminating look at the two most interesting recurring characters in the “Criminal” mythos. Teeg may come off as a heartless killer, but there’s always a cold logic behind every action he takes. As for Tracy, the origins of his isolationist tendencies are made quite clear here. Both issues are also a great showcase for Phillips too, as he captures the cold grime of the prison from the first story, and the relative peace of a rural small town quite well. However, the real showpieces for the artist in these issues are the comics-within-a-comic: “Savage” and “Fang the Kung-Fu Werewolf,” pastiches of “Conan” and Marvel’s 70’s Kung-Fu titles, respectively. The stories told here may be a bit on-the-nose with their parallels to the ones in the main plot, but the offer Phillips a rewarding chance to cut loose and have some fun with the styles he’s homaging here. It’s clear that the creators haven’t lost the thread with the characters and world of “Criminal,” and any future returns stand a good chance of being welcome ones after seeing how this one turned out.