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Comic Reading Log - April

  Welcome to the new feature I plan on doing at as each month wraps.  Aside from books, I also read comics and though I write for a comic book website, I don't do a ton of reviews because it always seemed odd to have thousand-word reviews on a twenty page comic book.  Instead I plan to keep a monthly log of the books I read and my thoughts on the recent issue/storyline.
  I've read comics since I was a wee boy and I've felt pushed away a couple of times, once in the 90's and again a few years ago.  Both times was because I felt I was wasting my money on stale, cookie cutter and often badly written stories.  Though I will probably always have an interest in some of the superhero staples that first hooked me, independent comics are what's keeping my interest these days and if you are interested in reading good stories (I'm assuming you are since you are reading this on a book review blog) then you should definitely check out some of the comics listed here. 

Mind MGMT #10  ★★★★★

   This title has consistently been one of the best each month and with the first trade having just come out and the series only being ten issues deep so far, it won't be hard for you to catch up on it.  Matt Kindt, the writer and artist, has a finite story to tell here that will run for a certain number of issues and this is one of the things that's drawn me to non-mainstream books.  I get burned out on the serialized, cookie-cutter aspect of corporate comics, where nothing ever really happens.

    Mind MGMT is about a writer, Meru, as she searches for the truth behind a mysterious memory wipe and digs her way into a world of secret government agents with various psychic abilities.  In the first arc you follow her through that journey and once she teams up with Lyme, an ex-agent hoping to take down Mind Management the story really kicks into gear.  By issue ten, we're several issues into that team-up and they've been at work trying to recruit former agents before the agency re-recruits them.  I especially enjoyed this issue due to the abilities of the agent they were approaching this time and watching them deal with how best to get to him.

   Another great thing about this series is the bonus material.   Kindt adds mini-stories to the front and back flaps of each comic about agents from the past, often has a couple pages at the end of each story about agents as they were recruited that you may see in future issues, plus small snippets of side stories in the margins.  The design and his art all make for a very good fit when reading about a secret psychic government agency.

   Also, check out our interview with Matt Kindt from the recent WonderCon event.

Saga #12  ★★★★

   I don't know if you caught all the hubbub about this in the comic news this week, but a couple of explicit scenes of gay sex caused comixology (a digital comic app) to temporarily ban it because they thought Apple and Android would object to its sale.  Apple initially took all the crap for the ban and comixology seemed content to let them take the heat until everyone noticed the book wasn't for sale on Android devices either.  After a day or two of drama, they admitted to what had happened and made the book available for sale.  Hopefully the press helped the book's sales because it deserves it, though the two scenes in question point to my biggest ongoing issue with this book.

    The two scenes are in a flashback, as one of the characters "Prince Robot IV" - a character from a race with TVs for a head, is wounded in battle and as he lays there possibly dying, gay sex scenes pop up on the TV screen.  Now, author Bryan K. Vaughan has said everything happens for a reason, and in this particular scene, I could see that.  Perhaps 'Robot' is in the closet and as he lay dying his true feelings surfaced, but so often in this book weird stuff just happens (giants with huge sagging-to-the-ground nutsacks that fight naked, robots with TVs for heads, etc.).  If not for the drama about this issue, I'd have never given a second thought to the weird scene and just dismissed it as more random weird stuff that means nothing.  So in my mind, the attention was actually helpful and made me actually register the scene to see if he plays out later.

   Ignoring the weird-for the sake of being weird- stuff, the story itself is great.  From the start, the two stars of the book have been on the run for their illegal hook-up, members from either side of a race war have fallen in love and produced an off-spring, turning them into some of the most hunted beings in the universe.  This issue focuses mostly on Prince TV-head's attempt to catch them as he deals with the people pressuring him and gets tough on someone he thinks has information he needs.

The Sixth Gun #30  ★★★☆☆

   After hearing nothing but good things about this series, I decided to dive into it last month.  #29 was probably not the best jumping on point, being the end of a story arc, but this month's issue kicks off a new story.  Either way, there seems to be a bit of catching up to do and I may go back for old issues or trades to catch up as the story seems more than worth it.

    The new arc addresses the after-effects of the last arc and the 'story so far' breakdown on the front flap of the issue is enough to catch up on the basics.  The Sixth Gun is about six mystical guns, the sixth being of particular interest as it's tied to the end of teh world (or at least the world as we know it).  Becky, the wielder of the gun, used it last issue to confront her enemy spiritually, leaving her weakened and her spirit partially trapped in the spirit world.  Issue 30 begins a spirit quest of sorts for her to regain her strength, but of course by the end, isn't going quite as planned.  It's easy enough to follow the story without having read every issue, but there is a lot of character tension and interaction that doesn't seem to hit me the way it should if I'd read the series from the start.

The Black Beetle #3  ★★★★

   A four issue arc that I hope continues in some form after it wraps*.  I picked up the first issue because of the art and the promise of pulp fiction, both reasons have delivered in spades.  Francesco Francavilla's art couldn't be more perfect for the pulp noir feel of the book.  Set in what feels like an early 1900's era, we follow the Black Beetle as he starts off on a pretty standard mission that turns itself into a deeper and deeper mystery.  By the third issue, we now have a sense of what's really happening as the Beetle makes a few discoveries and has a run-in with a masked villain that nearly kills him.  The story itself isn't going to blow anyone's doors off, though it's good, it's the style of the book that makes the biggest impact.  I think one of my favorite things about the book has been that we really don't see the alter ego of the Black Beetle, the story stays focused on the masked hero who remains as much a mystery to the reader as to the citizens of Colt City.

*Edit: I want to add that Mr. Francavilla responded to a question of mine on twitter and answered about the length of his series:  It will a series of several five issue mini-series, each mini being self-contained.  

The Walking Dead #109  ★★☆☆☆

    The Walking Dead used to be my favorite comic, getting me through times when I was normally fed up with every other mainstream comic.  Lately though it's been quite the opposite.  The last several issues have felt like a mirror image to the last half of season three on AMC - You know a fight is coming, but every moment is being dragged out as long as possible to keep people waiting for that battle.  I don't have a problem with build up, but it passed that point several issues ago and now just feels like one things happens in an issue that the rest is just filler to make it take up the entire issue.  I definitely think this will be better read as a trade and if the final battle isn't better than what we got on the tv show last season, then it might not be worth it at all.

The First Law #1  ★★★☆☆

 This is a comic adaptation of Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy that he launched this month.  The great thing about the series is that he is offering it for free if you are willing to be patient and read each issue in parts, or you can download entire issues as they come out from comixology.  You can find out more info on the book here, at our article on the launch.

    The issue starts off just as you'd imagine if you've read the books, introducing us to Logen Ninefingers and Inquisitor Glokta.  Although it's been a few years since I read the First Law trilogy, the scenes immediately came back to mind as I worked my way through the issue.  Story-wise, no complaints, Chuck Dixon does a great job adapting Abercrombie's story to comic book form, however the art is another story.  Don't get me wrong, the art is beautiful, but that's part of the problem.  Anyone familiar with Abercrombie's work knows all-to-well the gritty style of the world and the clean art is almost too pretty a fit for it.  It doesn't ruin the story, but can be initially jarring.  Hopefully this will improve as the series goes on.

Conan The Barbarian #15  ★★★☆☆

    As a fantasy reader, Conan has always had a place in my heart and I was happy to hear about Brian Wood on this comic a while back.  Issue fifteen is part three of an arc, so not exactly the best jumping on point, though you can probably still find the prior two issues at your local comic shop.  Like all of Conan so far, it reads like you are being told of a story of legend, even if the adventure itself doesn't quite reach that epic feel.  It's a solid story about a woman Conan loves and his attempt to reunite with her.  The art is good, I don't love it as much as the early Conan relaunch where it was digital paint over pencil, but it's not bad.  The best thing about the series is that Dark Horse gets the trades out regularly once the monthly stories have wrapped, so this series is a great one to pick up in trade form as it often reads best in one sitting.

Dresden Files - Ghoul Goblin #3  ★★★☆☆

   Any Harry Dresden fan would be remiss not to check out the original Dresden comics that have come out.  The current mini-series, which will eventually be collected into a trade once the story wraps, fits in between two of his early novels: Full Moon and Grave Peril.  It's been nice to revisit early Dresden as the story now is much heavier lately, and so far they've done a great job in the comic with the world of Harry Dresden.  You don't have to have read his books to follow and enjoy the story, but if you have read them, you definitely get a sense of the time period in Harry's life.  So far they've done a good job mixing in the various aspects of his wizardry as he leaves Chicago to investigate a small town supernatural murder.  There has been more to the mystery than meets the eye of course and by issue three, the half way point of the series, he has started to scratch the surface of what's really happening, all the while digging himself into deeper troubles in his own Harry Dresden sort of way.


   Valiant has relaunched their line of books from the 90s and having never read their old stuff, I was quick to look past their comics.  Fortunately, one of the other writers on the site I work at kept talking about them and I finally decided to dive in, playing catch up on several of their series.  I'm glad I did, much of their line has become some of the comics I look most forward to each month.

Harbinger Wars #1  ★★★★

   Valiant's Harbinger and Bloodshot comics have been building from the start into this clash.  All of Valiant's comics have been great since their relaunch last year, but Harbinger has not only been one of my favorites from them, but one of my favorite comics period.  I'm finding more and more quality storytelling outside of the big two publishers than ever before.

   Harbinger Wars doesn't feel like something shoehorned into the line to create an event, it feels like a natural continuation of parts of the story from both Harbinger and Bloodshot.  You don't need to have read them to understand this series, but it will add to the depth and enjoyment.  The two books both feature groups: Rising Spirit Securities and Harada Global Conglomerates, both having delved into the super-people business and neither having it work out quite as smoothly as they hoped.  Peter Stancheck and his group of renegades star in the Harbinger book and are on the run from Harada, where Bloodshot has spent the last couple issues of his comic rescuing children from the Rising Spirit program.  Rising Spirit and Harada are more mixed up than anyone realized though and by the end of the issue we see Bloodshot ready to face off against Toyo Harada (leader of HGC) after rescuing another group of kids.

Harbinger #11  ★★★★

  Where Harbinger Wars offered pieces of every side of the conflict, Harbinger goes deeper by keeping focus on Harada and Peter Stancheck and his people.  I loved the overlap between this book 'Wars, seeing a few of the same scenes more fleshed out.  By keeping the focus small and the story deep, Valiant is putting on a clinic on how to do a crossover event.  The characters in Harbinger are some of my favorites, probably due to how flawed Stancheck and his group is.  You can easily catch up on this by picking up this issue and 'Wars this month using the "previously" section in the beginning of the issue.

Bloodshot #10  ★★★☆☆

   Much like this month's Harbinger, Bloodshot is a tie-in to Harbinger Wars #1 and expands on Bloodshot's side of the story.  Neither jump ahead of Harbinger Wars, but instead bring you up to the end of that book by fleshing out everything that's happened with the characters that you didn't see in HW #1.  It works well, fans can follow the story of any of the three books without having to pick up all of them to make sense of the others.  Though you should, because they are that good and Valiant is keeping the crossover small, as is best.   Bloodshot spends most of the book trying to get the super powered children he rescued to safety, fighting off a threat, dealing with having to be responsible for all these kids and leading up the moment that ties into the end of Harbinger Wars.  It probably won't matter what order the books are read in, but I'd recommend reading Harbinger Wars #1 first, since it was published first and then either this or Harbinger #11  since they serve to flesh out what you will know from HW.

Archer & Armstrong #9  ★★★★

   This issue wraps up the current arc, so the next issue may be the best jumping on point.  But with the "story so far" on the front flap, it's really not hard to jump in now and even better, with only nine issues out, it's worth going back and catching up on the story yourself.

   They've teamed up (sort of) with Armstrong's estranged brother, the Eternal Warrior, to fight a common enemy: The Null, which hopes to destroy the earth.  They've unleashed an entity known as The Last Enemy that is supposed to herald the end and it possesses Archer and turns on the others.  They work at foiling the Null's plot, all while trying to survive against Archer, hoping not to have to kill their friend, as Archer fights against him from the inside.


    When DC relaunched their entire universe with "the new 52" I was probably reading between a third and half of their line.  Between interest in what they were doing with this relaunch and the creative teams put on various books my interest was high, but slowly DC seems to have drifted back to the same stale stories they've always produced (to me, anyway).  Many of the creative teams that at first stirred up interest have sense moved on to other projects and DC has returned to a very generic format in the stories where nothing interesting happens and re-introducing old characters, made new again by the relaunch, is the biggest thing happening.  So now I'm down to just a few DC books and I'm only up-to-date on one of them: Scott Synder's Batman.

Batman #19  ★★★☆☆

    Scott Snyder has to be one of the best writers to touch Batman in years.  I've enjoyed arcs or mini-series from Batman, but I've never been able to get into his monthly books.  Something always seemed stale about them.  Snyder changed all that when he relaunched Batman with the Court of Owls, and though I was less impressed with the big 'Death in the Family' Joker arc that followed, it was still a good read.  Issue nineteen kicks off a new arc and focuses on a new villain - Clayface.

   It's not really much of a spoiler, anyone familiar with Batman should put it together when you see Bruce Wayne robbing a bank at the beginning of the issue before time gets pushed a few days backwards to show how he ended up there.   As those prior days pass, we get to see Batman doing detective work (something often overlooked by writers) as he stumbles onto Clayface's scheme and discovers his ability to mimic has gone to a whole new level.  Before he gets a chance to prepare to face him, Clayface finds him as Bruce Wayne at his office and leaves us with a cliff-hanger.   As for the art, Greg Capullo is perfect for the comic.

    The mini-story that follows, by Snyder student, James Tynion IV is a story following Batman and Superman as they investigate a series of strange phenomenon in Gotham and the supernatural nature of the problem creates issues for Superman.  I haven't always found these little stories interesting, but I quite enjoyed this one.


   Marvel is almost in the same boat as DC for me, but a few writers are keeping me interested in a few books, my favorites would have to be Daredevil and Thor.

Thor, God of Thunder #7  ★★★★

    I've never been able to get into Thor, something about the idea of an ancient god running around like a superhero always seemed weird to me, and the flowery language didn't help.  Between Thor in the first run of Ultimates and now the movies, the idea doesn't seem as odd anymore.  I still never saw myself reading a monthly comic, but Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic changed all that.  This story hasn't been about Thor being a superhero, this is about Thor being a god.  As a reader that loves fantasy, this comic sits nicely right beside Conan every month.

   This issue isn't a jumping on point unfortunately, but the series is worth picking up if you can find the issues.  If not, don't pass up on the trade.  The story follows three versions of Thor as he encounters the same powerful god-killer at three points in his life.  First as a young boisterous warrior god, not yet worthy to wield Mjolnir and instead carrying a pretty sweet axe around; second, the modern day Thor we are familiar with from the comics and movies; and third, an elderly Thor who seems to be the last God standing and now ruling Asgard as the all-father.  We are to the point now where the three versions of Thor are coming together into one story as they move to face the god-killer and we get a look at just what the villain has been working on.

Daredevil #25  ★★★★

   One of the best comics Marvel is putting out right now, from issue one Waid has really returned Daredevil to the superhero we all know and love.  This issue can be a decent jumping on point for new readers with a new plot starting and most importantly a new, a fairly interesting, villain introduced.  I was a little knocked out of the story at one point when they show young Matt Murdock training and he falls from a high ledge several stories and bounces off a slanted roof with a fancy flip to land alright.  I realize Daredevil is a superhero and practically a "ninja" for whatever it's worth, but he doesn't really have super strength.  Outside of his senses, he is just a well trained person and I don't know too many people the fall several stories to roll off a metal corrugated roof and be ok with "ninja" training, so it sometimes stuff like that  ruins my suspension of disbelief, even for a comic book.

All New X-Men #10  ★★★☆☆

    This book has really surprised me.  The concept was that Beast used some technology to pull the original X-Men team of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Angel and Beast into the present day with the hope that they would see what has happened with modern day Cyclops and be able to prevent the future downfall.  When I first saw the preview for this series I rolled my eyes a bit, but it is probably my favorite X-Book each month.  This is one of the many books Brian Michael Bendis is writing and aside from Ultimate Spider-man, he seems to have a good grasp for the mutants.  Stuart Immonen's art is, as usual, top notch.

    So far the original X-Men have decided to stay in the present day, with Cyclops taking particular interest in why his modern self is making the choices he is.  Much of the story so far has been made up of the interactions of the old and new X-Men, but this issue the villains begin to take a bigger piece of the story.  Mystique has assembled a team of mutants and begun a little crime spree, using Lady Mastermind to make them appear as the original X-Men team.  With all the mutant hatred in the world after AvX, it only adds to the complications for the X-Men right now.  In the meantime, modern Cyclops has showed up at the school to announce his plans for his own school and to invite any mutants that wish to attend.  This mirrors the very similar situation we had a year ago when the X-Men split into two groups, one led by Cyclops and the other by Wolverine, so hopefully they have a new path planned for the idea this time.  The one bad thing I'd have to say, which isn't really due to this book, but the editorial direction for the character in recent years is Wolverine.  He's gone from someone I used to root for, to an annoying character I hope to watch fail.

Avengers #9  ★★★☆☆

    This book has been both good and confusing at the same time.  It's feels like someone trying to write like Warren Ellis on Authority/Planetary but not quite reaching the goal of having all the weird meta-stuff going on also make sense to the reader.  To be fair, all of Hickman's work I've read has felt like this and maybe that's just his style.  I don't' think he's trying to duplicate anything, just trying to convey a nagging feeling I get when I read his stuff.   I've understood only parts of this story, especially at the first several issues, but by now you pretty much know what's going on enough to follow.  As with most cosmic stuff, it's pretty out there.  God-like people are doing crazy things with Earths from all the different dimensions, the Avengers are doing something about it, though I'm not sure what.  Most of this issue follows two new characters created Nightmask and Starbrand as they encounter Nihil and then a sentient Earth, it concludes with a big throw down as the Avengers decide to capture Starbrand and Nightmask before their power gets away from them more than it already has.  For readers that love the cosmic stuff, this book is pretty popular, but for me it would probably read better as a trade in one sitting.

Avengers #10  ★★★☆☆

    A bi-weekly book, you'll get two helpings of Hickman's Avengers every month (and that's not counting his New Avengers series as well).  I'm still in the arena of not quite getting everything Hickman throws at me.  He seems to continually create questions and mysteries, yet hasn't solved quite enough of them yet for my taste.  The smaller self-contained story of this issue though, did entertain me more than most of his recent work, I just hope that what's going on behind the scenes plays out as the arc continues.  Ten issues into this story and I'm still not exactly sure of the main plot connecting all the smaller arcs.

Age of Ultron #4,5,6  ☆☆

   I'm not a big fan of these mega-events Marvel has been doing the last few years, but I often feel obligated to read them since I write for a website that covers comic book news.  Don't get me wrong, I love huge stories, but for years now these haven't developed organically and are instead created through "writer's summits" where the goal is to create an event each year.  Often the goal of these events isn't to tell a great story, but to produce some end result in the marvel-verse.  We saw this with the AvX event last year, the story itself was pretty bad, yet it offered up some interesting stories in the Avenger and X-Men books since.

    Age of Ultron hasn't been as bad as AvX and has been getting more interesting with each issue.  The first few issues felt very decompressed, with the same thing happening in each issue, just with a different set of characters.  When you realize you've spent twelve dollars for those first few issues, it can get hard to ignore a story being stretched out.  Bryan Hitch's art, normally a high point for any book he touches has been week throughout the series so far.  Whether it's because he is rushed (normally known as a pretty slow artist) and perhaps the inker isn't a good match for his style.  Whatever the reason, it pains me to not be able to enjoy art from one of my favorite comic artists.

   It's unfortunate that fans had to drop so much money on these issues to get to a point where something is happening, but at least by issues five and six, things are starting to move.  What's left of the heroes have gathered to figure out how to stop Ultron, who isn't in this time period, by traveling to the future to fight him.  After some of them leave on that mission, Wolverine (and Sue Storm who snuck along) use the time travel machine to travel back in time to the point where Hank Pym was creating Ultron and kill him.  Wolverine tracks him down and begins to tear into him, but Sue momentarily stops him, not sure of wanting to cross a line.  She concedes however and let's Wolverine kill Pym.

   I would not be reading this series if I didn't write for a site that covers comic stuff, so my recommendation is a pass on this and maybe.... MAYBE if it has a decent ending it will be worth picking up in trade.

   This reading log is probably a bit longer than future versions will be due to me offering bigger descriptions of titles for the first edition of the column.  Hopefully I can catch up on a few comics I'm still behind on and add more titles to the column next month.  Some of the other books I'm working on are The Massive,  Uncanny X-Men, Wonder Woman, Fatale, 47 Ronin, The Manhatten Projects, and a few more.

   Feel free to add your own thoughts below, whether on some of the comics I've read and reviewed here, or completely different comics, especially if you have any recommendations for books to try out.  (You can use either Facebook commenting, or the standard blog commenting form below.)

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