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Picks of comic book week: Never trust a janitor with a TV for a head

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What can be said about “Saga” which hasn’t already been said, or typed, podcasted or Skyped? It’s one of the quickest and biggest hits to come out of Image Comics in some time – easing into becoming a steady top 25 seller a lot faster than “The Walking Dead” did. It is hard to find any critic of comic books (or graphic novels in general) who has anything negative to say about this brilliant creation by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It has thrilled both new, old, and jaded comic book fans who are hungry for new ideas, new dynamics, and stories which progress rather than regress. Naturally, this latest issue continues in the traditions of the previous one and all of the subsequent ones. The extra spice is that this is the penultimate issue of this latest arc, which has seen the expectations of the series turned on their ear.

The eclectic intergalactic family which survived being attacked by monsters and mercenaries has instead succumbed to the pressures of balancing career and pleasure while on the run. Alana’s job as a performer for the “Open Circuit” (an intergalactic combination of wrestling, Kabuki theater and mainstream superhero comics) has seen her dabble into drug use while Marko’s task of being a “stay at home dad” has seen him tempted towards an affair by his daughter Hazel’s dance teacher. As if this wasn’t enough, the pressures of aiding the Landfall empire have taken such a toll on the robot empire that a member of their masses, Dengo, has engaged on a crazed quest for revolution. Chasing after him is Prince Robot IV, who was left for dead at the end of the last arc but who is very much alive and is in little mood for games after burying his wife and having his son be kidnapped. Unfortunately, just as Alana is trying to sort out what to make of her life alongside Izabel and Klara, these various subplots come to a head as she’s sold out by someone she thought she trusted dearly.

There are quite a few key character conflicts and conversations here as well as quite a lot of action, which is violent without being too full of gore to be unsavory. And from the tripped out cover to the engaging interiors, Fiona Staples has created a science fiction comic which looks like no other with a cast which looks like no other. Dengo makes for a much different villain than the mercenaries and jilted exes from previous arcs and his violent instability makes any scene with him wildly unpredictable. Above all, Vaughan’s created a cast which excels at providing tension, comedy, and drama whenever either is needed and which seems to become deeper and larger with every passing issue of every passing arc. Each issue offers a satisfying chunk of story which always weave together into a richer whole.

“Saga” usually takes a break every six to ten issues to give Staples enough lead in time to continue the series as well as give the previous trade a chance to sell, so another break is going to come sooner rather than later. However, the ending pages promise quite a confrontation for October’s issue before that. It is almost impossible to wait between issues of this great series, which is exactly how serialized comic books should be.

Happy National Comic Book Day, everyone! Here are the rest of the comics of the week which can be honorably mentioned, but are not as good as the comic reviewed above!

Batman Beyond Universe #14: With the announcement of the end of this series in November, for the first time in quite a few years the possibility of there being no Batman Beyond comic book published in some form by DC Comics is very real. If so, it would mark the end of a roughly four year run by two writers which has produced an overall terrific run of comics which has appealed to mainstream fans who enjoyed the cartoon, but not many of the mainstream DC Comics efforts since. As this series enters the home stretch, longtime writer Kyle Higgins is joined by co-writer Alec Siegel as artists Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur and Thony Silas conclude a story which bridges the continuity of the “Beyond” universe of 2041 with the titular figure from “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”. The details of the end of Terry McGinnis and Bruce Wayne’s partnership is revealed with an engaging, albeit complicated, finale involving the Jokerz, Phantasm, and the grandson of the man who killed Bruce’s parents revealed as the man who killed Terry’s father. In the second story of this issue, we see how Jokerz leader Ghoul is rising through the underworld as Terry pays a visit to the “Justice Lords” parallel universe to train his counterpart and get a chance to speak to the only “father” he has left. As always, the artwork is solid and aside for some clunky bits, is a terrific read for anyone who misses the old animated universe.

Amazing Spider-Man #1.5: Dan Slott, artist Ramon Perez and colorist Ian Herring bring their “Spider-Man: Year One” story to a close with what is easily the best chapter of the mini series. Arguments concerning some of the questionable technology references, an overlap with “Untold Tales of Spider-Man” from the 90’s and even the worth of inserting new found Midtown High cast members who have never been seen again aside, this is a fun romp of an issue which ties everything up and offers a solid conclusion. Having accidentally inspired his first fan Clayton Cole into becoming the arrogant super villain Clash, Peter Parker is set to attempt to rebuild his life without being a superhero and salvaging what it left. However, much like in later Silver Age stories, a timely speech by Aunt May inspires Peter to once again don the mask of Spider-Man and save the day just in time. The frantic era of the Silver Age seems to suit Slott’s zeal to quickly resolve plot threats and the final battle between Clash and Spider-Man is a hoot, and one of the better retroactively inserted villains in Spidey’s rogues’ gallery (even if he’s basically a sound based Mysterio). Dan Slott’s zeal to add to the rich tapestry which is Spider-Man’s franchise is apparent, but this has easily been a better arc than the “Original Sin” tie in over in the regular Amazing Spider-Man series.

Cyclops #5: A sure sign that a comic is in trouble, or was poorly conceived at the editorial stage, is when the creative team which launched it departs rapidly (or is considered too “important” to be “wasted” on a failing series). Two months after opening artist Russell Dauterman was yanked to work on the new lady “Thor”, regular writer Greg Rucka tells his last story on the title here. He leaves the series with a simple yet engaging issue which sees Corsair and the teenage, cross time Scott Summers save themselves from being stranded on a secluded planet by tricking some bounty hunters into seeking them. Their trap is made more complicated when Scott decides to help out Savva, the servant of the leader of the bounty hunters who only wants to tend to her master despite his stubborn cultural oaths. There are some strong words about honor, an entertaining romp in the jungle, and solid art by Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot, and colorist Chris Sotomayor. Those expecting much closure won’t get it; it doesn’t feel like the end of a run, just the end of an episode as a new regime steps in. Next month, John Layman will step in as writer with Javier Garron on art, meaning a that “Cyclops” will have seen two different writers and three different artists in only six issues – which would be an embarrassment for a comic sold to the masses for four dollars a pop had Marvel Comics any shame or professional integrity. Fortunately, they don’t, so fans who specifically gave yet another random X-Men spin off a shot for the creative team will be expected to be patient with a new one. Sales figures suggest otherwise, which is a shame as this has resulted in a solid even if perhaps aimless little series.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #6: If it seems like a while between issues, that’s only because it has; the fifth issue shipped back at the start of June. The series was given a break so writer Al Ewing could co-write an “Original Sin” mini series which sought to shoehorn in former “Spawn” character Angela as the long lost sister of Loki and Thor because she adds such value to the Marvel Universe (or because Marvel made some business deal with her co-creator Neil Gaiman, whichever one wants to believe). The end result is an issue with a recap page roughly as long as a grade school book report as well as references to a “Fantastic Four” annual and a tie in for a crossover event which has yet to even begin. The desperation in the air is thicker than the black nail polish on Loki’s nails. Regardless, this issue seeks to pick things up quickly with a tale drawn by Jorge Coelho and colored by Lee Loughbridge which pits Dr. Doom against the young god of lies. A trip to the future sees the planet (and Latveria) destroyed at the hands of Loki, so the despicable doctor seeks to put an end to the threat before it even begins. The issue’s highlight is easily a duel of words between Loki and Doom in his royal palace before a trap is laid. Despite that, the issue stumbles under some catch up exposition and a clash between two construction workers whose debate about Doom’s value is so blunt that the pair may as well have been named “Meta” and “Phor”. After a surprisingly long break, this issue is an ambitious misfire which at least has its’ moments.

Mighty Avengers #14: The second Marvel comic to come out this week written by Al Ewing sees a series end, with a promise of a relaunch in the very near future. Salvador Larroca and colorist Matt Mila draw the conclusion of this volume of the series, which sees the titular team of street savvy Avengers (alongside guest assistants like the wizard Kaluu) make a final stand against the mystical Deathwalkers and their quest to take over all of reality by merging into a giant monster. It’s the sort of plot which is more in keeping with the “Defenders” than the Avengers, which is fitting as the team roster includes some longtime Defenders such as Luke Cage and She-Hulk. Cage’s will is put to the ultimate test as he soon rallies his team to turn the tables and stage a magical gestalt smack-down of their own. The end result is a very bizarre but ultimately satisfactory end to this series’ run before it is relaunched as “Captain America and the Mighty Avengers” in November to capitalize on Sam Wilson taking on the star spangled mantle (again). In truth, Ewing’s run has been a very quirky and imaginative feat in juggling a large cast of mostly B, C, and D-List characters and crafting a very entertaining and stable team series out of it. If it was plagued by anything, it was by “art” by Greg Land and endless crossovers with “Infinity”, “Superior Spider-Man”, and “Original Sin”. One hopes that the relaunch will have a better regular artist and more steam behind it. Considering how rarely a superhero team consisting mostly of heroes of color sees print at Marvel or DC, it is refreshing to see this series given a second shot at life. One hopes that readers embrace it.

New Warriors #10: Once again, this series double ships as the curtain is soon to be called on it; it sees its’ end with the twelfth issue. Regular artist Marcus To returns to draw a script co-written by Chris Yost and Erik Burnham, which is perhaps as action packed and messy as most of the series has been so far. Quite what possessed Yost to believe that a rag tag team of teenage and young adult heroes, both old and new, should spend most of their time fighting Inhumans, Eternals, and the High Evolutionary in bouts which seem to name check sections of the handbook to the Marvel universe is unknown. The end result has been a series where flashes of fun and characterization have been clogged with no end of duels against opponents very few readers – especially younger ones – may care about. At any rate, with only two issues left the New Warriors despite to take the fight to the High Evolutionary once and for all, and ambush him in his new lair. A spare members of the series’ limited supporting cast is sacrificed and the last page simply promises more high octane craziness. To’s artwork is amazing, and the colors by Ruth Redmond really pop. Unfortunately, the rush to this final battle seems apparent and compared to the flashy and hip “Young Avengers” run, this latest stab at “New Warriors” can’t help but feel dated.

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