Lazarus, Volume Three: Conclave (Greg Rucka & Michael Lark: Image Comics) takes the series deep into the politics of the ruling families. The action is precipitated by Jonah Carlyle’s escape following a failed coup. He seeks refuge with Jakob Hock, head of Family Hock, leader of a coalition in conflict with Family Carlyle. His intention was to trade information, but the only information he possesses of interest to Hock is the biological longevity secrets contained in his body. He becomes a prisoner and subject of medical experiments. Months later Hock offers to return him in exchange for ransom, which results in the title conclave, a meeting of all of the ruling families. Interesting to finally meet all of the other Lazari, and witness the power struggle among the families. Forever and another Lazarus named Sonja Bittner are forced to do battle as family champions–a thirteen page fight scene unprecedented in the series until now. For a minute it felt like reading a superhero comic. And there’s one final shock at the end, leaving the story with a huge cliffhanger.
Velvet Vol.2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Elizabeth Breitweiser: Image Comics) continues the story of former secret agent Velvet Templeton, framed and still on the run. It’s not quite as breathlessly paced as the first volume, because Velvet is focused on investigating the frame a bit more than avoiding capture. The possibilities for the frame include a wide variety of actors, and it soon becomes likely that there is some kind of conspiracy involved. She engineers the escape of a former intelligence officer named Damian Lake and quickly finds herself outmaneuvered, and in even greater danger than she was before. By the end of the arc he has become a new central character. He has his own agenda, and it’s not clear if and how Velvet figures into it. There are plenty of surprises–for her and the ones she’s investigating–but still plenty of time for fights and chase sequences.
Constantine Vol. 3: The Voice In The Fire (Ray Fawkes, Edgar Salazar, Aco, & Jay Leisten: DC Comics) continues Constantine’s struggle against the Cult of the Cold Flame. He has no team with him for this arc, although Zatanna especially appears in flashback–and it turns out his recent less selfish behavior may have been caused by a spell she cast on him. As he visits the remaining rogue mages who have not joined the cult (ostensibly to recruit or kill them), other implanted magic keeps tipping the scales. His travels include magical battles in dream dimensions, as well as time travel. The alternating art teams of Aco and Edgar Salazar (penciller) with Jay Leisten (inker) keep a reasonably consistent visual presentation. The final issue by Juan Ferreyra is a bit of a contrast, but it’s a cool story about Dr. Fate’s helmet. Constantine gets to utter the classic line “I’m a nasty piece of work, chief. Ask anybody.”
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952 (Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, Alexander Maleev, & Dave Stewart: Dark Horse Comics) shows more of the “missing years” in Hellboy’s life. In this case, it’s the story of Hellboy’s first experience as a field agent. The team goes to a Brazilian village to investigate possible demonic killings. Given the swastika on the cover of the collection, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the investigation leads to a Nazi plot to take over the world. It’s a nice callback to Hellboy’s origin story. The Nazi menace lived on for years in the Hellboy universe, which certainly makes for truly scary, evil villains. Hellboy is one tough customer even at this early stage, If you need someone to punch out monsters, he’s your man. Artist Alex Maleev (who had previously done work for Dark Horse, including one Hellboy story) returns to art duties, and is a perfect match. Mike Mignola includes some examples of his “control freak” directions in the Sketchbook section–which includes everything from character designs to thumbnails and detailed script annotations. It helps explain why so many of the Hellboy universe illustrators seem to capture Mignola’s style.