So far we’ve established that Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers series are way too slow, Moon Knight is a work of art, Rick Remender expertly plays in his own playground, Doop shouldn’t lead a series, Futures End could be the next 52 (if not for Firestorm), Canada doesn’t need a Justice League (but I’m glad Lemire is writing one) and the Forever People are welcome to join the New52, as long as Dan Didio doesn’t blow it.

If you missed any of that, check out Part 1 and Part 2

This week I’ll finish up my coverage of new comics I’m buying by tackling all my beloved “indies” (i.e. the books not from Marvel or DC).

Stray Bullets: Killers

Remember when I said Moon Knight was the best read these days? I lied. Stray Bullets: Killers is my favourite, but for some reason I keep forgetting about it. I suppose all those years of tracking down the original Stray Bullets series has me surprised when it pops into my stack of new books. Every month there’s an “Oh yeah!” moment where I realize I get to experience new stories that are every bit as good as the ones before them. David Lapham, you’re the writer/artist that just keeps giving!

In case you missed it, I wrote a little about how awesome the original Stray Bullets was. The good news is that Killers continues his great streak of storytelling without skipping a beat. At the risk of repeating myself, each issue contains a seemingly self-contained (yet largely connected) story about small-town crime. The characters feel unique, real and range from deceptively funny to some of the most frightening in comics. David Lapham writes and draws (in glorious black and white) the entire thing and captivates every single time.

If there’s one book you should be buying every month, it’s this one. It’s accessible, powerful and stays with you long after you read it. How else can I praise this series? Just go buy it. This comic is the farthest thing from “suck” there is. There’s your pull quote Lapham, free of charge.

Mind MGMT

Matt Kindt is one heck of a writer/artist. He’s an original voice is a sea of voices trying to be original. His art is all his own, his stories are deep and complex, his ideas are matchless—this guy is the full package. I was fairly used to buying his trades as they came out—everything from his early work on Pistolwhip to his opus that is Superspy, but hearing that he’d commit himself to a monthly? That sounded too good to be true. For twentysomething issues now, it still seems too good to be true.

Kindt’s story here is very much in the vein he’s used to tackling. We get secret organizations, mysterious agents, multifaceted, intertwining plot points and a strong narrative voice. The plot loses me sometimes, but just when I think I’ve lost it Kindt opens my eyes. There are so many neat storytelling tricks here it’s hard to count.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the design of these single issues as well. Kindt crams story into every corner of this book from the front and back covers to the margins of pages. I’ve never seen what the trades look like, but there’s huge value in purchasing the individual issues. The rear cover’s “fake ads” are a particular favourite of mine.

I wanted to tell you that Mind MGMT was one of the best ongoings of last year, but Lilley beat me to it.  If there’re two books you should by buying every month, they’re Stray Bullets and this one. If there’s three, feel free to throw Moon Knight in there, but who knows what the future holds for that title. I know Mind MGMT will be solid month after month.

Secret

There hasn’t been a new issue of Secret since…what? April? I’m counting this as a new comic I’m reading, but it’s by far the most sporadic. Yes, I had high hopes for this Jonathan Hickman-created series, but after huge gaps in its schedule, it’s little more than a curiosity.

I complained about Hickman plenty in Part 1 of this series—claiming his Avengers titles were far too slow, leaving plot threads hanging and building up grand epics without proper climax. Guess what? Secret is just as slow—maybe even more so! I read issue #1 a long, long time ago (April 2012, was it?) and only now are we nearing any sort of plot that makes sense. Yes, with issue 7 there actually seems to be something of a cohesive story. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one.

I love me a good Hickman-created Image series. You ever read The Nightly News? What about Pax Romana? Transhuman? If so, there’s still The Red Wing and Red Mass for Mars for you to chew on. Each of those series, while all flawed in their own way, provides a neat little story told in a neat little way. Secret is a boring story told in a drawn out, overly-dramatic way. It is my least favourite Hickman tale to date, and yet it doesn’t anger me as much as Avengers or New Avengers. I suppose I’d given up on it long ago, and I’m just waiting out its inevitably unsatisfying conclusion. Maybe I’m deluded—maybe it’s already over.

So what is so wrong about Secret? Well, the schedule is an obvious issue. This book is filled with riddles, rarely every showing its hand, so when you can’t recall every word from 6 months ago, reading a single issue without going back to past issues is an exercise in futility. Which brings me to my next point—the plot. This book started out with so much promise! Things are cool, complex, sinister and mysterious. One we finally find out what’s actually happening (in issue 5, I believe), things seem too simple. Dull, even! I’m officially bored with a title that should be rocking my socks off.

The art from Ryan Bodenheim is great, but I find it hard to appreciate given the pace. Almost every line is delivered as if it’s the definitive, tough-guy thing to say. If there is a comic book equivalent to over-acting, this book embodies it. The attempt is made to give every single line weight, but in doing so this book gets annoying quickly.

Allow me to now review Secret, as Jonathan Hickman might:

What did I think of this series…?

It was…

All a damn lie.

Who can I trust now?

Nobody… not even family.

What now?

Now… I take care of business.

That right there, by the way, is an entire issue’s worth of content. You’re welcome. I could write like six of those a month if you paid me to.

Oh … before I forget! The colouring (courtesy of Michael Garland) is really neat on this series, using only one or two colours (in various shades) per scene. It’s unique and worth noting, but gets old quick. Had the story actually gone in a worthwhile direction, the art team of Bodenheim and Garland would have impressed me more, but a new, full-priced series cannot get by on looks alone.

The Manhattan Projects

And now I can stop complaining. This is the Jonathan Hickman series you should be reading.

Yes, the pace of this series is slowing down considerably. We’re not quite at the same snail-riding-molasses level as his other books, but month after month the story is going from its usual brisk walk to an elderly stroll. But things are still happening! I can honestly say, each and every time I open an issue of The Manhattan Projects I enjoy the read. I enjoy the dialogue, the ideas, the plot—heck, if every Hickman book was still this creative you wouldn’t hear a peep of negativity from me.

What started as a simple but weird concept has now evolved into a nightmare. Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Robert Oppenheimer—I don’t claim to know anything about these incredibly important figures of science, but I do know that what Hickman has concocted should frighten and anger their families. I love it.

This series is filled with pitch perfect dark humour, mind-boggling science, scary revisionist history and enough gory violence to satisfy any reader with a nasty streak. Each character is unique, intriguing and worth investigating and each plot thread is worth revisiting. Hickman even nails the dialogue! You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll furrow your brow and you won’t have any idea what’s about to hit next.

Regular artist Nick Pitarra and guest Ryan Browne each enrich this series with their gorgeously deranged art. Rarely have expressions of insanity been so perfectly rendered. The cartoony-yet-accurate squiggly lines of Pitarra thrill every time an issue of his hits. The attention to detail and facial expressions make every panel worth exploring. Browne’s occasional contributions follow Pitarra’s work seamlessly without compromising an original style. His characters are more angled and refined, but every bit as frightening, pathetic and dangerous.

Spectacular art combined with a consistently creative story from Hickman makes this book a must read. It makes reading Hickman’s other books that much harder as well. Why can’t all his titles be this awesome?