Hi gang!  It’s been two years.  Two whole years since HBO’s Westworld showed up to delight, confuse, and intrigue.  So, the sophomore year started this past Sunday evening with a lengthy “Previously on…” recap of the first season, which is good, because there is a lot you need to remember from freshman year in order to make sophomore year work.

“Converting scientific concepts into narrative stories helps me see patterns in nature that I hadn’t realized were there. It also helps bring a fantastical character to life that has gotten under my skin and won’t stop itching until I reveal its true nature to others…” ~ Catlin O’Connell

I'm a cynic by nature. I like to pick apart things and complain about what could have been and what should be. It takes a lot to crack my thick hide. I'm extremely pleased to say that A Girl in the Himalayas, published by Archaia, succeeded after the first few pages.

Penny White is embarking on a new phase in her life: With her wedding to Peter looms on the horizon, Lloegyr sends a vampire curate to her parish, and her various charges begin growing up and moving beyond complete dependence; however, the whiskey-loving reverend struggles with her increasingly strained religious convictions, plus the more practical tasks of keeping Lloegyr’s residents from crossing through the thin places into her backyard. (A manticore finds her weeds quite enticing.) When Sue Harkness requests her help in investigating the migration of vampires into England, Penny jumps at the opportunity to deal with a problem that doesn’t affect her personal life. But, will the answers she finds serve as another reminder of how cruel the world can be and how heartfelt beliefs can’t provide complete protection?

You can tell Cullen Bunn is out to have some fun with The Damned. Yeah, there’s some serious goings on with demons and life and death, forgiveness, guilt, and all that, but with issue #9, Bunn digs in his heels and leans into the whole 1930s mafia world. We’re introduced to two new characters: Sophie and Wyrm, a brother-and-sister thieving team who are along for the ride with Eddie and Morgan. Eddie is the anti-hero of this world, and when he’s not tending to his mother brought back from the dead, he’s a cursed human who can’t die and who gets himself caught neck deep in trouble at every corner. His brother Morgan is the muscle, but smart, though - smart enough to know when Eddie is leading him by the nose. Eddie and Morgan can see the demons; Wyrm and Sophie can’t.

The most surprising thing about this issue was on the final page reading "To Be Concluded." Nothing in this issue or the issues leading up to it gave me the distinct impression that this was to be the penultimate issue. Grass Kings, from chapter to chapter, has broken from your typical storytelling structures. In some ways, that’s benefited the story; you really have no idea where it’s going next. In other ways, it’s made it difficult to build a continuing sense of tension, stakes, or drama. Grass Kings is part murder mystery, part political allegory, and part snapshot of a type of people. The story doesn’t always capture all of these elements in a balanced way, but as you snake back and forth between stories and characters, there are those moments of brilliance that make the series worth reading.

If you don’t already know, I’m a huge fan of military sci-fi. From Jack Campbell to John Scalzi to Orson Scott Card to Elizabeth Moon, they all have something to offer. But now, it looks like Joe Haldeman has jumped into comics once again with an ongoing series from Titan Comics. I had the pleasure of getting a signed copy of The Forever War, Vol. 1: Private Mandella at Forbidden Planet in New York in 1990. The new comic series is based on his second series of novels set in the same universe.

The final issue of Giants showcases the big, epic battle between monsters and brothers that the previous issue promised. It’s visceral, cinematic, and emotional. The outcome isn’t necessarily unexpected. The story has veered slightly away from the complex world the first issue created in exchange for a more good vs. evil showdown, or at least enlightened vs. led astray showdown; that delineation feeds into the emotional gravitas of the final moments. So, while the outcome isn’t unexpected, it is satisfying. Every twist and turn in this sci-fi actioneer calls upon elements of everything from Evangelion, Akira, and Godzilla. Every story element has been crafted beautifully into the story. Nothing feels inauthentic. Now, I will give a book the best compliment it can get: What would have made it more satisfying is if this series had a much longer run. Comic books, more than cinema and even television, have the ability to world build to the Nth degree. They can take their time and really delve into the characters, who they become, and why. Where Giants falls short for me is literally in the fact that it fell short…issue-count wise.

Writer and artist Gabriel Hardman drops us smack dab into a situation no one would want to find themselves in. An unwitting son runs into his mother’s room in the middle of the night to find something wrapped around his mother’s face. He doesn’t know what it is. We do: a facehugger. This is a nightmare. This is terror. In these first few panels, Hardman has reinvigorated the horror of the Alien universe, and the comic doesn’t let up. An evac has been called, and mother and son must traverse the city. It’s go, go, go from page one. It’s adrenaline. No mystery, no science fiction tropes - this is survival. This is Ripley running around on a spaceship in her undergarments, all alone with god knows what on board with her. It should be no surprise that the colony, LV-871, is under the supervision of Weyland-Yutani.

Welcome back. If you missed it, Black Hammer was one of the great surprises of 2017. Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormstrom, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein, Daniel Chabon, and others all joined forces to bring their love of Golden Age comics to us and then beat those tropes into a bloody pulp with a wrench of emotional despondency. It was brilliant. Aging Golden Age heroes of Spiral City, after saving the world from a cosmic evil, found themselves trapped on a farm like some Philip K. Dickian reality show as psychoanalytical mind-f*** to live out their lives. In this new world where superheroes don’t exist, some took to it, some did not. When Black Hammer tried to escape, he was killed by unknown forces. Ten years later . . . hope came anew when the daughter of the great Black Hammer, Lucy Weber, found her way to these despondent heroes. She began to uncover strange mysteries about the town all while Col. Weird, who has access to the Para-zone, seemed to know a lot more than he was letting on. In the final moments leading up to the story break, Lucy Weber picked up her father’s hammer and became the new Black Hammer.

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