You Win or You Die: Season 7, Episode 1: Dragonstone

With only a few episodes left remaining in the entire series, I think most of us were expecting a little more action in the Season 7 premiere. Even though we didn’t see any early deaths, there were still plenty of appearances to make things intriguing. Everyone is on the board after Episode 1, with reigning champion The Debt Payers in first place and scoring a maximum seven points for having his entire team appear in the premiere. Money For Nothing, Pod For Free is in second with five points, with most of the league tied at four and Many-Faced Team not far behind with three points.

The Scorecard is below with individual team scores after the jump.

Standings Week 1

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Favorite Comics of 2017 (So Far)

I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled Wednesday new comics post in order to heap acclaim upon some of the best things I’ve read through the first half of 2017. With the Eisner Awards ceremony just a few days away (which, by the way, I’ll be attending for the first time; pretty excited about that), it felt like a good time to bestow some additional accolades upon the hardworking creators whose passion for comics continues to push boundaries and enrich the medium.

I’ve been doing these mid-year check-ins for some time now, and I usually know exactly which comics I’d like to single out, resulting in a neat & tidy Top 5. This year, however, my list excludes some books I’m loving, like Grass Kings by Kindt and Jenkins, Avengers by Waid and Del Mundo, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Rosenberg and Boss, Hostage by Guy Delisle, and Paper Girls by Vaughan and Chiang. So if you thought those books were good, check these out..!

Royal City – Jeff Lemire
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Like the graphic novels that comprised his Essex County trilogy, beginning with 2008’s Tales from the Farm, Lemire’s new book is a realistic family drama set in smalltown North America. Unlike those singular, well-defined stories, however, Royal City is an ongoing title, a format that lends itself to longer “seasons,” if you will, and an opportunity to fully explore the Pike family and the human tremors that epicenter from the titular town. In his afterword, in fact, Lemire mentions being inspired by this Golden Age of Television. And I have to say, the first thing I thought of after reading the first issue was Netflix’s Bloodline. There’s a shaky familiarity to every tense exchange, every terse comment, like the way you’re afraid of a Eugene O’Neill play because of the truths it uncovers.

The inciting event, family patriarch Peter’s stroke, brings the three siblings and their associated baggage into focus. Patrick returns from the big city, where he’s a novelist struggling against writer’s block; Tara is a real estate developer looking to turn the city’s manufacturing center into a resort community; and Richard works at the aforementioned factory – or would work, if he was ever sober. And then there’s one more sibling, Tommy, who moves through the narrative as a haunting memory unique to each family member. We’ve been reading plenty of Lemire books lately, but it struck me that, apart from variant covers and his work on After Death with Scott Snyder, it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to appreciate Lemire’s art. His style is raw, like the emotions each Pike is unable to cope with, but with a brilliant attention to detail, creating a comic that is a layer of puzzles and mystery. It’d be more haunting if it also didn’t feel so disturbingly real. Royal City is a story that perfectly intertwines ghosts with the even more unsettling, the living.

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CALEXIT

Yeah, I get it. We live in a bubble. Despite feeling like I don’t need to hear it anymore, I nonetheless am amused and bewildered when I come across the kneejerk closed-minded right-wing reactions to even the vaguest of protestations. Case in point: the first three Amazon reviews for the digital edition of CALEXIT, the latest subversive gem from Black Mask Comics, courtesy of Matteo Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan. If they had called this book about organized resistance to an oppressive, fascist America something like, I don’t know, Secret Empire, maybe some folks would have bothered reading it before ranting. Instead, bozos like DonkeyKong777 and Lochstar chime in with insightful bon mots like “progressive bull corn” and “liberal wet dream.” This wasn’t thrown together as reactionary propaganda; the truth is, Pizzolo and Nahuelpan started working on CALEXIT long before reality started eerily mirroring the fictional dystopia they were crafting for in the book.

with any luck these “reviews” will have been taken down by the time you read this post

These guys also know the truth about California. Because they, like us, actually live here. And it’s far less of a bubble than most of the world realizes. So when the book’s creators stopped to think about what might actually happen if the majority of Californians rebelled against an authoritarian regime, they realized that the state itself would likely become dangerously divided. As Pizzolo states in his afterword, “from my point of view, any secession would likely lead to a civil war within California before the military could even get their boots on… Political passion/rage is as bipartisan in California as it is in the rest of the country.”

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Champions and the Secret Empire Tie-Ins

We’re pretty familiar with the routine at this point. Marvel’s big summer event simmers with lead-in stories and “road to” developments before kicking off with a Free Comic Book Day prologue. Then we hit the main event, and queue up the requisite mini-series, including the anthology book with short stories from a variety of up-and-coming creators. And, of course, the tie-ins. Everyone has a tie-in. Occasionally these crossovers enhance the main storyline, and in some cases they’re downright essential. It’s increasingly problematic, in fact, that more and more of these comic book events are inscrutable in their own right and require following a good portion of the ancillary material. Sometimes the connection is tangential, but the plot trigger results in a decent one-shot or two-part tie-in. More often than not, however, it just seems like Marvel’s cheap way of selling more copies of their books.

And every once in a while Marvel gives us a stellar event book, and they tie it in with a great monthly series (that we should all be reading anyway). I’m hoping that Champions #10, out this week, didn’t need the Secret Empire banner to help boost its sales, but whatever the case, Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos took advantage of the opportunity to spin a worthy companion tale.

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The Weirdest Thing I Ever Saw

Holy Bee of Ephesus

We all watch stupid shit. Although terms like “golden age” and “peak TV” have been thrown around quite a bit in the last few years, referring to the acclaimed offerings of HBO, AMC, Netflix, et al., sometimes you just want to look at garbage. I’m sure there are people with advanced degrees and high-paying jobs who get through the day just to race home to their tastefully decorated domiciles to gorge on Real Housewives on their DVR.

Me? I’m hooked on paranormal shows. And thanks to the wealth of cable channels, I ghost-adventures_ep_magnolia-plantation.rend.hgtvcom.616.462can feed my addiction on a pretty much constant basis. It’s only a matter of time before there’s an all-paranormal channel. (Destination America comes close, but it’s been having audio problems the last few days. And I’m on my summer staycation! I’m almost ready to put a bullet through the screen, Elvis-style, because the sound keeps dropping when…

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Secret Weapons

Once again, Valiant Entertainment requests your attention. Last month, for Free Comic Book Day, the company led with a story pulled from Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello’s outstanding X-O Manowar relaunch. That book also contained a preview of this week’s Secret Weapons by Eric Heisserer, Raul Allen, and Patricia Martin. This isn’t the same Valiant super-team from the 90’s, however. And, as such, much like the new X-O, it serves as a great jumping-on point for readers looking to find out what the fuss is all about.

The original Secret Weapons (1993)

Amanda McKee, AKA Livewire, is the lone carry-over from the original crossover series. After learning that her former employer, Toyo Harada, has been disposing of powered psiots whose abilities are considered less than useful, Livewire takes it upon herself to track down and protect as many of these scared young kids as she can. Together, this new Secret Weapons team prepares to fight off a deadly power-absorbing cyborg codenamed Rex-O, armed with not-so-devastating skills like talking to birds, conjuring umbrellas, and making random shit glow. The result is an engaging getting-the-band-together adventure that sits somewhere between Warren Ellis’s Wildstorm and virtually every one of Marvel’s young mutant books.

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Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man

For many people my age, Spider-Man, Batman, and the X-Men, are their definite heroes. I can only translate that to the popularity of each of their animated shows. For the past few years, I haven’t really been keeping up with the ol’ webhead. While I have enjoyed parts of Dan Slott’s years-long Spider-Man run (Superior Spider-Man was excellent), overall, I haven’t found it clicking with me. I’ve always liked  the low-stakes drama of Peter’s social life/job while dealing with street-level villains, so Slott’s corporate Parker and his globetrotting adventures hasn’t been my thing.

Enter Chip Zdarsky.

For years, I only knew Chip as that really funny guy on Twitter that all the comic creators I followed interacted with. Eventually, I realized that he is a hilarious writer and fantastic artist (If you haven’t seen his saga with Applebees, check it out). In recent years though, Chip has had a comic outpouring in great books like Jughead, Howard the Duck, and the still running Star-Lord. The sense of humor and surprising amount of pathos in his books had gotten me terribly excited for his Spider-Man run. All the hype I built up in my head did not prove to be too much as I loved every second of this book.

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The Defenders

Last month, Marvel gave us our first look at the new Defenders series as a back-up feature to the Free Comic Book Day edition of Secret Empire. And this week, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez introduce us to the full cast of this street-level vigilante superteam. Marvel Studios continues to hold sway, which is why this Defenders squad is unlike any team of that name that we’ve seen in the comics (a Defenders team with no Strange seems odd). But right away, you can tell that Bendis is driven by more than just the typical company mandate that resulted in phoned-in Guardians of the Galaxy comics or the tedious Civil War II. Bendis is here because he loves these characters. And if the story doesn’t convince you, his afterword says, in no uncertain terms: “I love Daredevil so much.”

He also reminds us that he created Jessica Jones, has had a perennial crush on Luke Cage, and even took an opportunity to develop the Iron Fist mythology when Brubaker and Fraction weren’t looking. So this is clearly something he’s excited about. Marquez is onboard too; those bold, logo-draped character entrances give Bendis’s quick cuts and fluid dialogue a 70’s-style cinematic beat. You can almost hear the horns and bassline when Luke Cage strolls up carrying five dozen sandwiches.

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Aaron & Bachalo’s Doctor Strange

Blame it on the Time Gem, that re-imagining of Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto for the MCU, warping temporal conventions and mortal publishing schedules. This week’s Doctor Strange #20, the culmination of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s brilliant run on the book, comes a week after issue #21. Weird, yeah? One might say strange, even. Or maybe Marvel was just really eager to get the first issue from the new creative team on the stands for its Secret Empire tie-in. The real reason for the twisted release schedule, however, can be found in the afterword of this week’s book: “Why, you ask, is issue #21 already on sale? DO NOT BLAME KADAVUS! Blame the incompetent editor whose buffoonery has put him on the edge of infinite torment!” Well, sure. It’s well-established that comic book editors are all buffoons, so I’m sure a slight delay on an oversized book brimming with mind-bending Bachalo splash pages and interior art from the legendary Kevin Nowlan can fall squarely on that moron’s shoulders.

And we’ll excuse it. Because, truly, none of us really wanted to see this creative team bid farewell. We typically spotlight series or storyline premieres in these weekly New Comics posts, but this time we’re making an exception. Since Aaron and Bachalo first introduced us to this new axe-swinging Stephen Strange in the opening week of the All-New All-Different initiative, Doctor Strange has been one of the most exciting and visually gratifying superhero books on the shelf. This new issue even brings back that “sexy incorporeal asian succubus” that had a little something to do with the book’s high finish in our ANAD rankings.

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #17: The Rolling Stones’ Post-Exile Trilogy

Holy Bee of Ephesus

There is a blindly-accepted mythology that began as soon as the 70s ended. The myth goes like this: The Rolling Stones were a scrappy London R&B band that rode the first wave of the British Invasion, had some monster singles, did a classic mid-60s album (Aftermath), stumbled briefly with a psychedelic Beatles knock-off (Their Satanic Majesties Request), then righted themselves, found an excellent producer in Jimmy Miller, and made the Holy Quadrilogy — Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile On Main Street — each an irrefutable cornerstone of their massive legacy and four of the greatest rock albums ever made.

And after that — Some Girls aside — it all went to shit.

The “Ultimate Classic Rock” website, the internet’s click-bait custodian of lazy rock factoids, perpetuates the well-trodden path, describing the first post-Exile album, Goats Head Soupas“the end of the Stones’…

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