By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review serves to fill in the gaps our frequently verbose comic book coverage leaves behind. Each week, we take a brief look into the books that demand attention.

STK659616Annihilator #5


Written by Grant Morrison.

Art by Frazer Irving.

JJ: If you decide to follow through with the undertaking that is Annihilator – and if you haven’t already, you need to get on that shit – allow me to offer you some solid advice: To undergo the journey Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving have laid at our feet without mentally preparing yourself for batshit lunacy is the utter definition of “fouling up”. Steel yourself, then dive right in.

We’re one book away from the end of Annihilator, and while there will undoubtedly come a swell of emotional relief after the last page of issue #6 is turned, there will also come an immediate desire to relive the wet and wild abandon we’ve only just experienced. What will follow will not be unlike a fondly recalled acid trip.

Ray Spass, writer, lover, nihilist, is a white-hot mess. The seconds that count towards his imminent death are ticking away, and whether it’s tears or sweat or blood from his nose, fluids continue to leak out of the man as he slowly outs the truth. Through his own words, Ray discovers that Nomax – the man who would be his only salvation – may have been responsible for the very universe in whick Ray and his ex-girlfriend stand. If that’s true, then the oppressive Vada is God. Naturally, that makes Max Nomax Lucifer himself. (Which gives this exchange an unnerving depth: Luna – “Why have you brought us into this? All of this.” Nomax: “? I thought you’d like it.“)

As Ray’s written words reveal Nomax in his true form, seated at a colossal, horrible cosmic organ ready to play his song of death, a sinking feeling began to creep into my hands as I realized… my god. There are only three pages left. I have to have more. I need to have more.

Only one issue to go. That sinking feeling will not relent.

9.5 out of 10

boom_cluster_001_a_mainCluster #1

Boom Studios/$3.99

Written by Ed Brisson.

Art by Damian Couceiro, colors by Michael Garland.

MJ: Reminiscent of last year’s Six-Gun Gorilla (the low-profile, incredibly high-quality Boom series by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely) in its variation on press-ganged civilians fighting freaky aliens on far-off desert planets, Cluster’s military sci-fi thriller has an intriguing premise. There’s some of Starship Troopers in there too, with just a hint of Bitch Planet’s prison-drama vibe added to Suicide Squad’s compulsory reach for redemption. Aside from all that, Cluster quickly grabs your attention with compellingly-written drama and well-executed art.

Writer Ed Brisson establishes Samara Simmons, our main character, by giving us a hint at her history and just enough of her motivations to intrigue us. A politician’s daughter imprisoned for a DUI (and possibly murder), she chooses the alternative to life in prison: fifteen years of military service on the planet Midlothian, helping to clear it of alien natives, then terraforming it to better sustain human life. Each inmate has a “punch” installed within their body, allowing them free reign when battling the Pagurani forces, if they check back in after 24 hours. If not: well, apparently a liquefying of the prisoner’s internal organs is involved. So when a small group is stranded far from base, with less than 24 hours to return before their “punches” expire, they have a great reason to try and get back as soon as possible.

Artist Damian Couceiro has an excellent illustrating style and a good storytelling ability, keeping the more dramatic scenes just as gripping as his action-filled panels. The people on his page and their facial expressions are rendered very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing him cut loose on more battle scenes. Brisson always excels with the interactions of his ensemble casts (see his Image book Sheltered), and the rest of Cluster’s characters – notably spunky, mohawked Grace and loyal, grotesque Slarreg – are just as enjoyably written as heroine Samara, making the group’s (hopeful avoidance of) impending death-by-”punch” all the more suspenseful. Cluster #1 is an excellent first issue in a series with great promise.

8.5 out of 10

Wytches_04-1Wytches #4

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Jock; colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

JJ: Four issues in, and Snyder’s grim fairy tale of the unseen and the macabre has shifted into an appropriately tense gear. Sailor (which is a name for a young kid because Scott Snyder feels that it can be) has been pledged by unknown forces to the Wytches, a clan of xenomorphic, albino cannibals who chitter like crickets just before they eat teenagers alive. Charlie, Sailor’s shithead of a father, is on the case, and a single lead brings him to some fundamental truths whether he chooses to believe them or not. (The price? One ear lobe.)

The writer takes the opportunity to juxtapose Sailor’s plight with two subplots, one that works (Charlie takes a visit to the Here Coast, where he learns some rather unsettling things about the Wytches) and one that just doesn’t (a flashback sequence where Charlie forces his daughter to climb a rickety Ferris wheel because he’s a terrible father). Snyder’s playing in the freeing, R-rated world that Image happily provides, but maybe that lack of a tether gives Snyder too much freedom: In Wytches, just about everyone (including the teenaged Sailor) is a foul-mouthed smartass, and their nagging insistence to employ relentless vulgarity saps away the vital humanity that is essential in a story like this.

Matt Hollingsworth’s colors lay a solid foundation over Jock’s pencil-thin lines and broad, jet-black brushstrokes. But that foundation is layered with loud, seemingly Photoshopped droplets of watercolor, and while these textures provide emotionally appropriate hues, they accumulate into distracting splotches more often than not, removing the drama that Jock’s illustrations attempt to convey. It’s hard to feel frightened when your eyes are awash in a sea of pink and turquoise. In spite of these negatives, Wytches is reliably spooky fun. But it seems that true, white-knuckling terror continues to elude it.

7 out of 10

Nameless01Nameless #1

Written by Grant Morrison.

Art by Chris Burnham, colors by Nathan Fairbairn.

MJ: Nearly all of Grant Morrison’s many acclaimed comic works were for the Big 2 (or their indie-esque imprints), so it’s very gratifying to see someone as well-established in the superhero mainstream as he is releasing an original creator-owned book at Image. Nameless is only Morrison’s second series with the publisher, and while co-creator Chris Burnham previously had a few other releases through Image, this is the first since his star-making run with Morrison (and colorist extraordinaire Nathan Fairbairn) on Batman Incorporated. Anticipation for a new comic by these three talented individuals is high – as it rightfully should be – and I was immensely gladdened that my appropriately high expectations were not disappointed.

Touted as sci-fi horror, we mostly get the latter in this issue; Nameless is presumably saving the space-scares for future issues. But the horror we do get is well-executed, with much of the imagery lingering in the mind well after the book is done. (The Veiled Lady’s gnawed fingertips are especially, um, memorable.) A book this full of, well, creepy weird shit is perfectly suited for artist Chris Burnham, who excels at drawing the bizarre and horrific. His layouts are phenomenal, especially the first few nightmare-esque pages. And with Nathan Fairbairn’s gorgeous, melty coloring to boot, this book is without doubt one of the best-looking comics on the stands.

Nameless also showcases Morrison’s superb knack for writing a gorgeous turn of phrase. Within the sparse but eloquent narration, lines like “… now it’s January and the morning air’s bitter with the smoke of fallen fireworks” remind us that despite so much emphasis on his (sometimes batty) concepts, storytelling, and world-building, we forget the man is also a wordsmith of the highest order. (Some people just have all the luck, don’t they?) Nameless is a welcome addition to Image’s (already massive) roster of brilliant comics.

8.5 out of 10

Tri2MwCSaga #25

Written by Brian K. Vaughan.

Art by Fiona Staples.

JJ: It’s February, and in Chicago that means the sun has hidden behind oppressively bleak-ass clouds for nearly seven months, and the city is under at least a foot of slushy, black/brown sludge. The Vitamin D that is so crucial to our happiness and well-being has been thoroughly sapped from us, making each day an intense journey of heavy drinking and not murdering people. It also means that Saga is back, and life is worth living again.

Artist Fiona Staples and writer Brian K. Vaughan have worked diligently during Saga‘s well-earned hiatus to provide yet another wonderful issue to this fascinating and complex space odyssey. Picking up directly after the events of #24, issue #25 is a place holder of sorts for every critical member of Saga‘s cast of characters: Alana and Klara are at the mercy of Dengo, a robot janitor gone rogue after having kidnapped both Prince Robot IV’s newborn son and absconding with both women and Alana’s daughter, Hazel. They are under pursuit by IV and Marko, who spend their time spewing venomous bile to each other while the reliably diplomatic Ghüs attempts to calm nerves in the most utterly adorable manner possible. And Vaughan & Staples’ sumptuous entry doesn’t forget the other assembled crew in this little melodrama…

… Leading us to the planet Demimonde, where Gwendolyn, The Brand, and Sophie encounter a giant dragon, her family, and a well-learned lesson in dragon anatomy, all of which point us towards the single most laugh-out-loud line of dialogue in the entire book’s run thus far (“Pwah! The bitch pissed in my fucking mouth!“). Oh, Saga. Don’t you ever change.

9.5 out of 10

LADY KILLER #2 COVERLady Killer #2

Written by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich.

Art by Joëlle Jones, colors by Laura Allred.

MJ: The best way to describe Lady Killer: picture Mad Men’s Betty Draper, were she moonlights as an assassin-for-hire. And while that seems a rather unlikely prospect, Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich pull it off splendidly. Jones’ highly stylized art (with Laura Allred’s gorgeous colors) is certainly a great asset, and this is a book that suits her talents well. She’s also co-credited as a writer (along with co-writer and frequent collaborator Jamie S. Rich), presumably giving her a little more freedom from an artistic perspective, and the care put into her rendering is palpable.

The first half of the issue has our eponymous Josie Schuller on the job for her most recent hit, calling for her to dress up and play waitress as a pseudo-Playboy bunny, and I have to say it’s beyond enjoyable seeing a lady dressed up in seamed hose and heels kick the shit out of a misogynistic dickhead. The creators aren’t shy about showing the two in a fistfight, or to show Josie taking a punch or two to the jaw before she kills the creep. Jones’ storytelling chops shine here, as does her ability to draw a dynamic action scene.

The remainder of the book deals with more of Josie’s efforts to balance her job with her (not insignificant) duties at home as a wife and mother, and her efforts to keep it all a secret from her family. The attention to period detail is very appreciated, and only makes the story more engaging. (In a period piece, there’s nothing worse than getting pulled out of a story because someone’s hair or costume or makeup is incorrect: no such problems arise here.) Aesthetically, even Jones’ art style fits with the era, at times reminiscent of the gorgeous fashion illustration of the time. This is simply well-crafted and entertaining fiction: the only fault to find with it is its brevity as a five-issue mini-series, and that only three more installments remain. (My fingers are certainly crossed for more.)

8 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books are YOU reading this week? Let us know in the comments below.