This installment takes place almost entirely on the comet Phang, where the group is forced to stop for fuel. Subtitled “The War For Phang,” the publisher’s summary calls it self-contained. It isn’t, really, since a new reader would be lost without some past history with the characters–or would lack empathy with them, at the least. There is a whole group of Phang residents that the group adopts, and new information about the Freelancers. The Will loses his union membership; Lying Cat declines his offer to reunite; new Freelancer The March catches up with the family (demonstrating that they are on the run for a reason), and exit the stage. In the end the family escapes, and young Hazel (still the narrator) learns lessons about family, friends, and loss. It’s ultimately an extended intermission in the main action, but it does touch on several things that should have long-term impact.
Gail Simone’s creator-owned series continues to paint a world that looks like ours: but there are aliens actively working to take over. Cult leader/horror novelist Astrid Mueller has the ability to see the invaders for what they are–despite their ability to pass for human–so she is a target. But the assassination attempt that is the centerpiece of this collection comes from Astrid’s brother. It sets several changes into motion, including a takeover attempt by another cult leader and journalist Chloe Pierce’s increased involvement in Astrid’s organization. Chloe has a surprising role in saving Astrid (along with an alien ally), and Chloe has surprises of her own. None of the major actors are ethically clean: they all have a habit of threatening loved ones (if not actually holding them hostage) to get people to do what they want. This volume moves the story along nicely, filling in back story while also revealing new information about the aliens and the main players.
There’s a good reason why the word “New” is spray-painted across the series title on the cover in some sources. Freshman Finals at the end of the previous school year left only one member of the core cast standing: Saya. Her enemies on the Student Council now rule the school with an iron hand (although there is plenty of internal dissension, sure to be fuel for future story lines). So we’re introduced to a colorful new group of first year students: Quan, a Vietnamese rockabilly; Helmut, an East German metal-head; Zenzele, refugee of a brutal African civil war; and Tosahwi, a Native American skate punk. Like their predecessors, they are both colorful and full of surprises. They have barely had time to get into trouble before they get thrown into a pitched battle against a gang sent by Saya’s brother to bring her back home, along with the family sword she wields. After a double-cross, her fate is uncertain. The last issue, “Ballad of Marcus & Maria: A Prologue” catches us up with these characters who left the school earlier–and promises more about them. Will they return to the school, or will the story begin to branch off into parallel story lines? Surprising as the previous collection was, this one packs in almost as many, and proves that Remender and Craig have an endless supply of interesting characters to fill out the cast.
When we last saw monster-hunting P.I. Cal McDonald he had been transformed from a ghoul into some kind of demonic monster (note the wings on the cover image). This story arc finally builds towards the Major Event that has been hinted at for a long time (even bigger than the human/monster war that is threatening to break out). Two demon babies show up in Los Angeles, transforming every human they meet into a murderous monster–of the “fly into a rage and eat each other” variety. They are seeking the titular Third Child which will unite with them and create hell on earth (sounds a lot like Hellboy, now that I come to think of it). After fighting against his growing demonic nature, Cal figures out that he is the Third Child. But instead of joining up, he fights the combined children (together they make a huge monster, the better for Cal to hit). The battle is a bit anticlimactic, but it leaves Cal transformed. Back to human form, perhaps? The final panels are ambiguous. It looks like this may be the finale of the series: although it wasn’t announced as such, there have been no new stories for the nearly three years since the last monthly issue in late 2014. A bit disappointing if so.