Rachel Rising #17 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

“Dead” good stuff “witch” deserves to be read… POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW (SIX FEET BELOW…)

I’ve been a fan of Terry Moore for years, having latched onto the superb Strangers in Paradise about halfway through its run. His sci-fi follow-up Echo was also a great read, and now he’s delving into straight-up horror with the creepy and unsettling Rachel Rising.

The series begins with the titular Rachel having been murdered and buried in a shallow grave in the middle of the woods. She doesn’t let that stop her heading back into town to seek out her friends and family. But this isn’t a zombie comic, despite the central character being positively undead. Rachel is still Rachel. For the most part…

Seventeen issues in and the book remains intriguing, featuring demonic murderous children and priests, ritual sacrifice and reincarnated witches hell-bent on revenge. The different layers and themes of death and coping with death that run throughout the series are fascinating and at times horrifying. It’s a book that’s as dark and mysterious as it is beautiful to look at.

Terry Moore’s art is always gorgeous, and he draws realistic women with more than just his art. His writing focuses on character so deeply that everyone has an individual and recognisable personality from the start, something that made Strangers in Paradise so heartbreaking and makes Rachel Rising occasionally terrifying. The black and white pages really highlight how fantastic his linework is and how effortlessly he distinguishes between characters that a lesser artist might blend together.

Getting hold of issue one is a bit pricey nowadays (with eBay having picked up on the rumours of a tv series in the works), but if you can find the trades for a reasonable price or if you have access to Comixology and want to read them digitally they’re definitely worth your hard-earned money.

The Wake #1 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

No need to “fish” for compliments – I’m already “hooked.” (I’m so sorry…)

With impressive runs on Detective Comics, the current Batman series and American Vampire, Scott Snyder’s name on the cover is a good enough reason to pick a book up and pay attention. And it remains true of The Wake, a new 10 part mini series from Vertigo.

This first issue has a very cinematic feel, and reaches from the far future to the distant past. Everything about this book’s visuals feels like it belongs on the big screen, from wide shots of helicopters flying over Alaska to futuristic cityscapes being engulfed by tidal waves. Sean Murphy does an amazing job of bringing the book to life, making the fantastic and bizarre feel as real as the everyday human interactions.

The focus of the issue though is squarely set on Dr Lee Archer, a cetologist* with hints of a murky past and a troubled family life. With the promise of a chance to get her life back on track and get taken seriously as a scientist again, she’s persuaded to join an expedition to investigate an unidentifiable vocal recording from deep below the surface of the ocean.

Joining a team with intriguing and diverse specialities (and in one case some shared history with Archer) the expedition begins. The submarine setting is perfect – claustrophobic and tense from the moment we climb inside – and becomes more unsettling when we learn of an attack and mutilation and a strange creature on board…

The set-up is solid and questions are raised from page one (just what is that giant figure inside the tidal wave in the opening scene?), and The Wake looks set to be as deep and mysterious as the ocean it’s set in.

*Cetology is the study of marine mammals – and yes I looked it up.

Invincible # 102 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

Turning 100 a couple of months ago hasn’t slowed this book down… HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

The events of Invincible’s 100th issue felt huge. There was a change of status quo, some big news, and it even looked as if Mark had been killed on live tv (although he was later revealed to have been saved at the last minute and replaced with a decoy – a long story worth catching up on). But the revelations and repercussions in this book are somehow bigger, and feel more suited to an anniversary issue…

The Viltrumites relocation to Earth has been a threat waiting to boil over for a while, mainly because of the unstable and seemingly indestructable Grand Regent Thragg. Whilst the other Viltrumites have been living amongst humans and struggling with having feelings for their new partners (multiple partners in some cases), Thragg has remained distant and bitter, violent and cunning. Recently we’ve seen him have a run in with Dinosaurus that once again proved his durability and strength, and after being told some inconvenient news while Mark was dealing with the Scourge virus he effortlessly killed the scientist delivering the information without a second thought.

It’s that news that causes the conflict in this issue. Nolan – and therefore Mark – is a direct descendant of the Viltrumites’ previous Grand Regent. And Thragg isn’t going to give up his throne to anyone, least of all a traitor. Although Nolan isn’t interested in taking over from Thragg, a large portion of the book is taken up with their battle, a brutal fist fight in space illustrated as masterfully as ever by Ryan Ottley. Ottley’s beautiful art is a huge reason this book is so amazing, every page is full of detail and expression, and nobody else makes gore so much fun. Debiie’s inclusion in the scene lends a lot of urgency, and it’s a real concern to see her put in danger as these two powerhouses collide.

Meanwhile, Eve’s news from issue 100 leads to a natural next step from Mark, and it’s a feel-good moment that furthers the growth of this relationship and of Mark and Eve as characters. Knowing Kirkman’s writing, we should probably make the most of moments like these, because it won’t be long until something devastating comes along to take it away from us.

Invincible is without a doubt the best book Kirkman writes, and it deserves as much if not more than the attention garnered by its higher-profile sibling The Walking Dead.

Honourable Mention this week goes to Young Avengers #4

Almost every week a Marvel title features in these reviews, and I’ve been trying to avoid highlighting another Marvel book. But when they’re producing comics as good as Young Avengers it’s hard to ignore them…

Gillen and McKelvie are making Young Avengers fresh and exciting, and with their injection of soundtrack elements via Noh-Varr’s fascination with Earth music it’s also a lot of fun. There’s a fight/rescue scene in this issue illustrated with real ingenuity and wit, and when Noh-Varr introduces a song into the equation it really comes alive.

Loki’s addition to the cast also throws a doubt on one of the most endearing relationships in the Marvel universe. An intriguing question is raised about the reality of the situation, and the answer might not be what we (or Hulkling) will want to hear…

Despite the ever-growing number of books with “Avengers” in the title, Young Avengers feels very different and original, and if you’re not reading it you might want to consider taking a look…

Nova #3 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

Another shining star in the Marvel NOW lineup… SPOILERS WILL SURELY FOLLOW

After reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy last time it might seem a bit much to highlight another book starring a space-faring hero. In fact, two of the Guardians also appear very prominently within this issue, but if you’re going to be reading that you’ll probably find Nova to be a worthwhile companion.

The Nova in this series is not the original “Human Rocket” Richard Rider (who we learn has apparently perished), but a 15 year old boy called Sam Alexander. The son of a Nova Centurion who has inherited his father’s helmet and position, Sam was introduced in Marvel Point One and played a key role in the AvX event. This book starts before those stories as we learn how Sam took on the mantle and learn about the Nova Corps alongside him.

This issue starts with Sam on the Moon, meeting the Watcher (or the “pointer on the Moon” as Sam calls him) who alerts him to the approach of an armada of spaceships. Nova realises this is a warning and heads back to Earth to attempt to warn the Avengers (“which I’ve got no idea how to do”). Although this is halted by a confrontation with his mother (who may or may not know about Sam’s secret) and then another run-in with Rocket Raccoon and Gamora. They announce that there are billions of lives depending on him, and so they will provide training to make sure he’s up to the task.

During his training Gamora reveals why they came to Earth – they required help from Sam’s father to stop the Chitauri from attacking Earth. Sam works out that this was the armada he saw earlier, and Rocket explains that only Nova can see them (“it’s gotta be the helmet. Novas could see things in space nobody else could”). Sam’s role in the plan has now changed – they need him to scout the fleet and provide details in order for an attack to be co-ordinated. The inclusion of the Chitauri is a clever move on Marvel’s part, providing a direct link to the Avengers movie and a fun jumping on point for any readers drawn to comics because of it. We get another look at the armada, and sure enough there they are, presented exactly as they appeared on the big screen. Hundreds of ships. And they’re right in front of Sam…

Despite a slow pace the book is building momentum and Ed McGuinness’ art is as beautiful as ever, each page deserves to be savoured. Considering his links to the Guardians of the Galaxy and the invitation to join the Avengers offered by Thor in AvX, this new Nova is sure to become a major player in the Marvel Universe.

A brief mention has to also go to my second pick this week – Supergirl #19

Supergirl has consistently been one of the most visually appealing books in DC’s New 52 thanks to Mahmud Asrar’s outstanding art, and he draws both Karas beautifully. But as a fan of Power Girl from way back, it was especially good to see Earth 2’s Kara being provided with an updated version of her “classic” costume in this issue. Here’s hoping that weird upside-down teardrop “P” emblem has gone forever…

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

If I say this comic was “out of this world” will you ever speak to me again…? (SPOILERS BELOW)

With the movie in development you might be interested in finding out more about the Guardians of the Galaxy before it’s released. And the superstar creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven are doing their best to make sure you’ll be reading this series long after as well…

Issue 0.1 set up the history of Peter Quill (Star-Lord) a few weeks ago, and while it’s not required reading to enjoy this issue it does give a background and some perspective on events within. We meet Peter in an off-world bar, attempting to pick up a Kree woman before he’s interrupted by the appearance of his absentee father. Peter is half-human, half Spartax, and the heir to an empire. We learn that a new law means extra-terrestrials won’t be allowed to set foot on Earth any longer. Being part alien, this of course also includes Peter. But with tensions between father and son already running high, he’s not about to start doing as he’s told now.

This discussion is also interrupted, this time by fellow Guardian Gamora (“the most dangerous woman in the universe” according to Peter’s father), coming to what she thinks is the rescue. It tells us all we need to know, introducing Gamora to new and old fans alike, and the rest of the Guardians aren’t far behind – Groot, Rocket Raccoon and Drax the Destroyer join Star-Lord and Gamora on a double page spread as they intercept a Badoon warship, alongside Iron Man in his current (and ugly) deep space armour.

The inclusion of Iron Man may help to bring otherwise undecided readers to this book, and despite being out in space to “get away from the ten teams of Avengers” he seems destined to become part of yet another roster of heroes. As Star-Lord rescues a fallen Stark we’re shown that the Guardians are a fully-functioning unit, a capable team who work well together and have genuine chemistry. Even if you’ve never read any Guardians of the Galaxy before, Drax’s reluctance to leave anyone behind establishes their unity, and Rocket Raccoon goes the extra mile to rescue his buddy Groot.

This comic is definitely worth your time, and I’d seriously recommend getting yourself a copy while it’s still on the shelf. It’s fast, funny and action-packed, beautifully drawn and intriguing, and once the trailers start appearing for what will surely be a shining star in Marvel’s movie universe this issue is going to be much harder to get hold of…

Batman & Robin #18 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

Batman gets picked twice this week. After what he’s been through I think that’s ok… SPOILERS

Firstly, we should address the matter of Batman Inc issue 8. I don’t normally read Batman Inc, but unless you were taking a break from the internet in the week before its release you probably won’t have been spared the news of Damian Wayne’s fate (spoiled by DC themselves before the book was on sale). I picked up issue 8 knowing what happened inside, only because of what happened inside. I’m not a fan of Grant Morrison in general, despite the almost universally accepted knowledge that he’s the greatest thing to happen to comics since Alan Moore. I read Batman Inc #8. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I completely get that if a character is going to meet his end it’s only fitting that his creator should be the one who gets to write that scene. I will miss Damian, assuming he doesn’t return after six months, and really enjoyed his adventures and his tenure as Robin. He was an excellent foil for Dick Grayson’s Batman, and his growing relationship with Bruce has been a joy to watch, mainly thanks to Peter Tomasi’s writing within the pages of Batman & Robin.

And it’s this month’s Batman & Robin that has earned the pick of the week slot for me. An entirely silent issue showing Bruce dealing with his loss the only way he knows how. It’s powerful and emotive, and shows the creative team are completely in sync. They deliver a perfectly judged illustration of raw grief throughout the issue, and if the final page doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you probably don’t have a soul.

And if we pick Batman and Robin we can’t not include Batman #18 this week, as we see Batman’s grief and self-destructive actions through the eyes of obvious Robin-in-waiting Harper Row. She’s witnessing from afar that Batman is acting differently and instinctively know the core reason behind his changes. She recognises personal loss.

Saving his life (again) and demonstrating that she’s been training in order to help him out don’t bring out warm feelings in Batman, who breaks her nose as he physically and mentally pushes her away, fearing another death that would be his responsibility. It makes sense from both perspectives, and it’s good to see Harper doesn’t back down. A separate visit to Bruce Wayne leads to a final panel that both pays tribute to Damian and potentially foreshadows Harper’s upcoming role. It’s a brilliant touch, and proves once again why Batman might be the best book in DC’s New 52.

Avengers #7 – Arthur’s Pick of the Week

Marvel “then” meets “Marvel Now.” In Style… SPOILERS BELOW

Complex with roots buried deep in Marvel continuity, whilst simultaneously being fresh and new-reader friendly, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run may just be destined to be remembered as one of the best the title has seen.

Seeds are being sown here for a grand cosmic adventure, and the ever-expanding roster of this Avengers team are a mostly grounded and relatable group. We’ve already seen plenty of snappy and natural interactions between team members not used to working together (the new Superior Spider-Man’s run-in with Cannonball and Sunspot was a particular highlight of issue 6), and Hickman introduces big ideas with just as much enthusiasm and clarity.

In this issue we’re shown the “White Event,” a reference to Marvel’s “New Universe” created in 1986 (Warren Ellis also revisited the concept in 2007 with newuniversal). The original White Event created a new line of comics separate from the mainstream Marvel continuity, superheroes existing in a world that more closely resembled our own with a more realistic approach and setting. Arguably the most well-known of these characters was Star Brand.

This is where Avengers #7 brings us – a White Event has occurred, but “this was not a normal White Event. The Machine is broken.” We’re shown throughout the issue several potential new heroes at a college, just going about their everyday business. We learn the White Event impacted at the college, and it all looks very straightforward – we assume these people are about to be given powers. Except the introductions we saw turned out to be just one introduction. One person who was present during each scene, a small part of the background who went almost unnoticed at first glance. And he’s the lone survivor of the impact. The new Starbrand. Some foreboding dialogue indicates that the Starbrand should only be given to a certain type of person. And our lone survivor doesn’t seem to be a suitable candidate…

This issue may not be a perfect jumping on point for a new reader, but there may still be time to catch up with back issues or (probably easier) via the upcoming trade. Jonathan Hickman has a solid history as a storyteller who plays the long game, so get in on the ground floor and get ready to enjoy the ride.