Monthly Archives: April 2016

Tokyo Ghost vol. 1: The Atomic Garden

Rick Remender’s creator-owned output through Image can be charitably described as “uneven.”  Though he’s clearly a skilled writer, he needs to find a new approach beyond simply tossing his characters into hopeless situations and then starting to grind them down.  It’s an approach that has worked on “Deadly Class,” is on the verge of breaking “Black Science,” and managed the impressive task of getting me to quit “Low” after one volume.  Now he’s back with a new title that shows him to have ever so slightly tinkered with his established formula.  If that was the only thing “Tokyo Ghost” had to offer then it’d be easy to write off.  As the art comes from the enormously talented Sean Murphy, I’m actually thinking about sticking with it.

The story starts off in the Isles of Los Angeles, circa 2089, and wastes little time in introducing us to our protagonists.  Constables Led Dent and Debbie Decay aren’t so much cops as enforcers for the corporations that oversee the tech-addicted population.  It’s their job to keep psychopaths like the mind-jacking psychopath Davey Trauma from killing off too many people and putting a crimp in the megacorporations’ profits.  This is a world in full bloom of squalor and decay and Debbie wants out before her childhood friend and boyfriend Led’s mind is fully consumed by it.

Fortunately their boss at the Flak Corporation has the “one last job” that will allow them to do that.  While most of the world embraced everything that technology had to offer, Japan wound up going a different way thanks to “Project Akata.”  Not only is it a green paradise, but it also has enough clean water to supply Los Angeles for decades.  Problem is that it’s blanketed in an EMP field that makes a full-scale attack impossible.  Debbie and Led are sent into rectify that problem with the promise that their contracts will be fulfilled after they’re done.  Of course, being sent to a green land without technology is just what Debbie was looking for and what Led needs to get back his mind.  So why would they even bother coming back, let alone finish their mission?

It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Remender has a pretty depressing fate in store for his protagonists that will ruin the lives they go on to build in this natural community.  What sets this apart from the writer’s other works is that it shows he at least understands that characters have to be built up before they can be broken down.  Things are pretty bad for Led and Debbie when we first meet them.  He may be a badass fighter, but Led is emotionally and socially shut off from his girlfriend and the world at large.  Debbie is also hopelessly devoted to this guy against her better judgment without a solid plan to free his mind.  When they get to the Tokyo garden, they’re finally able to start letting go of these bad feelings and start becoming real people again.  I’ll also give the writer credit for some amusing sections where his protagonists’ crudeness clashes with the peaceful, laid back vibe projected by the garden’s inhabitants.  These scenes are the best parts of the volume, even though they don’t last for long.

The rest of this volume is basically what you’d expect as things go bad for Led, Debbie, and the community they’ve come to be a part of.  I’d probably have been more involved in it if Remender didn’t make it obvious that was his plan all along.  What with the community member who clearly has a beef with Led making his intentions known as soon as he and Debbie show up.  Then you have the familiar tropes, both with Remender’s style and the genre as well, further diluting my interest in the story.  Without giving too much away, Led and Debbie’s lives are pretty much ruined by the end, even if it’s obvious that the apocalyptic ending we’re served up is a fake-out for a surprise reveal of survival in vol. 2.  Remender’s use of casual-sounding narration during breakneck action scenes is also starting to wear thing.  What was once unique and refreshing now comes off as standard-issue here.  It’s also disappointing to see him take such an obvious binary tract with the world he has created here.  The moral spectrum in “Tokyo Ghost” basically boils down to “Technology=BAD” and “Nature=GOOD.”  This is an obvious approach that has been done before and a lot better elsewhere.  I can’t really get invested in another allegorical attack on the perils of technology when it’s done with so little imagination.

For all of my criticisms, there’s one thing that makes all of them go down significantly easier:  Sean Murphy’s Art.  I’ve said before that he’s one of the best artists working in comics today and he reinforces that opinion further here with some absolutely stunning work.  He makes the urban decay look utterly dazzling to the eye with the intricate detail of the backgrounds and insane action that almost hits “Looney Tunes” levels of insanity, but still maintains enough grounding for the reader to be fully invested in the violence.  Murphy also creates a fully-realized utopia of nature in the Tokyo scenes that really sells its appeal as a paradise that allows Led and Debbie to start the healing process.  That’s the real strength of the art here.  As trite and formulaic as the storytelling gets in this volume, Murphy was still able to sell me on a good deal of it through the strength of his visuals.

If I’m looking forward to anything in the second volume of this series, it’ll be what new sights we get to see in this world.  I can’t say that the story has me all that excited as I believe I know exactly where Remender is heading with things in the short term:  A whole lot of people (or maybe just one special one) turn out to be not dead and Led and Debbie find themselves forced to be apart due to their new status quos.  If nothing else, I hope that this setup provides a decent enough springboard for more fantastic art from Murphy.

Goodnight Punpun vol. 1

After “A Girl on the Shore” didn’t entirely satisfy my craving for a new quality manga from Inio Asano, this one hits the mark.  Let me say upfront that it’s kind of a depressing read as well.  It’s about average grade school kid Punpun Punyama trying to make his way through life as his situation is upended, warped, and complicated by friends, family, and love.  Part of the series’ appeal so far is how Asano manages to nail a lot of the little details particular to being a young boy.  Hanging out with your friends trying to unpack the mysteries of sex (and find porn, though the internet has dated that one).  Falling in love for the first time.  Or contemplating dreams like becoming an astronaut and discovering a new planet when they still seem possible.  If the series was just made up of these bits it’d be a pretty decent read by itself.

Except Asano’s tendencies have always trended more toward the avant-garde and surreal.  That’s put front and center here as Punpun and his family are rendered as cartoonishly simplistic bird-like characters.  Why would he do such a thing?  I’m in agreement with Scott McCloud in the sense that abstracting a character in this way makes it easier to become more involved with them.  Asano gives us the minimum of visual cues to understand Punpun’s emotional state in a given moment while providing copious text boxes for us to understand his train of thought.  Everything else is left for the reader to fill in for themselves.

So it’s a neat trick to draw the reader into the narrative, but it also cuts both ways as it allows them to distance themselves from some of the more disturbing parts of this manga.  Such as the aftermath of violence that greets them at the end of the first chapter.  After all, it’s not happening to a real person, just a cartoon bird.  There are also other surrealist touches that characterize this series, such as the borderline psychotic behavior displayed by some of the adults and Punpun’s conversations with God — who is inserted into the story as a photo of a Japanese man with an afro.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that this is Asano himself.  Which just makes Punpun’s conversations with him about the meaning of life all the more foolish.  Don’t ask mangaka about such things:  They’re not big on giving out straight answers.  Yet if you can bring yourself to buy into the weirdness that permeates this series, you’ll be rewarded with a compelling and immersive read.  Not for everyone, but bound to be beloved by those it is for.

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham Book I: The Golden Age

Alan Moore tends to leave very deep footprints in his non-creator-owned work.  His run on “Swamp Thing” still reverberates to this day whenever someone tries a new take on the character.  The short stories he told with Batman and Superman still stand as some of the most memorable ones featuring the characters.  Even his run on “Wild C.A.T.S.” stands as one of the few good things to come out of the endless parade of crap that was 90’s Image superhero titles.  Then you have “Miracleman” which stood as one of the great revisionist superhero epics of the 80’s that still holds up well today.  The final volume also served as a transformative narrative that left the series in much different shape than when it began with Miracleman and his companions becoming virtual Gods on Earth.  How do you follow up something like that?  Who would be crazy enough to try?

In case the title of this review wasn’t obvious enough, the answer to that second question is Neil Gaiman.  These days he’s a living legend in the industry, but he had only been writing “Sandman” for a few months when this series hit the stands.  That he would be following up Moore on this series seems, in retrospect, to be an unbelievable stroke of good fortune.  However, Gaiman’s run was never finished as only eight issues were published before “Miracleman’s” publisher Eclipse went bankrupt and the rights entered a legal purgatory for the next couple of decades.  With Marvel having finally sorted them out, we can now expect to see the completion of the epic the writer started with artist Mark Buckingham.

Eventually, at any rate.  Their second volume, “The Silver Age,” was supposed to have started being reprinted by now with the first all-new story to debut in issue #3.  These three issues have since been cancelled to be re-solicited at a later date.  Frustrating, to be sure, given that people have been waiting decades to find out how the story will end only to have that promise snatched away from them again.  I imagine that the reason for this is something along the lines of Gaiman suddenly realizing that, “All of the issues of ‘The Golden Age’ have been reprinted?  Oh shit!  I guess I’d better get started on finishing this!”  After all, the writer did cop to being the main reason for the long delays between issues of “The Sandman:  Overture.”  That series turned out to be well worth the wait so I’m not too concerned with this latest delay.

Yet how does “The Golden Age” hold up after all these years?  Not quite as well as Moore’s work, it has to be said.  Gaiman provides an interesting and thought-provoking look at the new world Miracleman has created with his fellow superbeings with the six loosely connected stories here.  The problem is that there’s this dissonance between what we’re clearly told is the best of times and the melancholy, occasionally tragic experiences of the characters in these stories.  That may even be the point here, except that it casts a depressing cloud over the inventive scenarios cooked up by Gaiman and the stunning artistic versatility displayed by Buckingham here.

Take the first real story after the prologue, “A Prayer and Hope” which focuses on a man who is climbing Miracleman’s citadel along with three other pilgrims in order to pray to their new God.  It’s a demanding journey filled with strange sights and still remarkable that it exists at all.  Here we have the act of communication with an ostensibly divine being (in the context of the story at least) made real and tangible, even afflicted by bureaucracy.  In this case, other humans have decided that it’s safest for people to go up and pray in groups of four.  When the man and what’s left of his group meets Miracleman at the top and their prayers are heard, the abstract one is granted while the materialistic and more personal one is denied.

Is this a statement on the limits of Miracleman’s power or his decision on how things should be?  Subsequent stories indicate that the latter statement is more likely the case.  In any event, we have the volume starting off with a story that, after telling us that humanity exists in a “Golden Age” right here and now, makes it explicitly clear that it’s one where not everyone is happy.  War, disease, and poverty may be things of the past in this utopia, but happiness is still something that you’re going to have to work on yourself.

Gaiman continues to work that theme throughout the stories that follow in this collection.  Whether it’s about the young man who met Miracleman when he was a boy and winds up finding the right girl through the new matchmaking program, the man looking for the perfect woman who thinks he’s found her in Miraclewoman, a resurrected Andy Warhol striking up an unlikely relationship with the similarly returned Emil Gargunza, or the woman director who tries to balance being a mother to a normal boy and a super-intelligent Miraclebaby, they’re all struggling to find some kind of happiness in this fantastic world.  A lot of the scenarios Gaiman creates for these characters are interesting to see unfold either from a narrative or artistic perspective.  The underworld where famous personalities live again is one such example as it expands upon something Moore set up in the previous volume while potentially foreshadowing a future plot point.  Because resurrecting Gargunza in the hopes of rehabilitating him is something that’s sure to pan out well for everyone involved.

Also, I was hoping that Winter was the exception, but with the introduction of Mist here it’s plainly obvious that Miraclebabies are CREEPY no matter who’s writing them.

I guess my main problem with what Gaiman is doing here is that he keeps hitting that same note of uneasiness in this utopia over and over again.  Even in episodes like “Spy Story” which have genuine cathartic moments of hopefulness, the writer can’t seem to resist closing them out with an indication that things haven’t really improved.  In actuality, he’s carrying on in spirit from that uneasy note at the end of Moore’s run where Miracleman is left wondering if he has done the right thing after all of his remarkable achievements still have his ex-wife rejecting him.  Yet the repetitive nature of the sentiment that people are living in the best of times, only not really, gets old after a while and started to drag on my enjoyment of these stories..

Something that doesn’t wear out its welcome in this volume is the ever-changing art of Buckingham.  I’m most familiar with his work as the regular artist on “Fables” for the majority of its run, where he turned in consistently appealing work that struck a great balance between its mundane and fantastic aspects.  His work on “The Golden Age” is on a whole other level.  Buckingham starts off with conventional painted and pencil art in the first couple of stories with elements of caricature and offbeat stylization creeping in around the edges.  Then Buckingham starts departing from convention with the 80’s art deco look of “Skin Deep,” giving Miraclewoman the otherworldly goddess look that the story demands in an effortless manner.  From there we get comic-strip-esque takes on kids in a playground that transition at the end in magnificently creepy fashion to a riff on former “Miracleman” artist John Totleben’s style.  Appropriate given that the specter of Kid Miracleman hangs over that story.  Buckingham also gives the title’s underworld a haunting stencil-ized look and appropriates Warhol’s work in a fittingly arty manner for this story.  The man’s versatility in the stories here is frankly amazing.  I mean, I knew he was good but after seeing his art here it feels like he was just taking it easy all those years while working on “Fables.”  Buckingham sets the bar for himself so high here that I worry about subsequent volumes coming off as ordinary in their artistic presentation.

We shall see about that, though, when they finally arrive.  There is a glimpse into what Gaiman originally had planned for his three-volume run on the title back when he first started in the supplemental material for this volume.  It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that the third volume was going to be called “The Dark Age” with its three-word description being, “Things go bad.”  After reading the stories in this volume, it feels like the writer is stating the obvious there.  Whether or not he can make it interesting, it’s certainly possible.  I think Gaiman is one of the all-time greats and if anyone can make a successful return to a series that they had to stop writing after a couple decades, it’s him.  That still doesn’t change the fact that this volume represents one of his lesser efforts as a writer.

Secret Wars Roundup

I probably should’ve mentioned this earlier, but tie-ins to “Secret Wars” came in three different flavors.  The titles branded with “Last Days” showed how their characters reacted to the end of the Marvel Universe (such as it was).  “Battlezones” gave us a look at the goings-on in different regions while the main event was going on, while “Warzones” did the same but with the aim of setting up future stories in the reborn Marvel Universe.  It’s those last two kinds that I want to talk about here with “Siege,” “Thors,” and “X-Men ‘92.”

Mining crossovers for good story material can be a tricky proposition, unless you’re Kieron Gillen.  Between his work on “Journey Into Mystery” and “Uncanny X-Men,” the writer turned in work that was arguably better than the “Fear Itself” and “Avengers vs. X-Men” events that spawned them.  That’s not the case here with “Siege,” though it serves as a mostly good capstone for the writer’s work in the Marvel Universe.  Rather than rehash the “Avengers vs. Norman Osborn” conflict this series takes its name from, Gillen channels the spirit of his short-lived “S.W.O.R.D.” series as we see Abigail Brand once again faced with an impossible task.  That would be overseeing the Shield wall that protects the Northern parts of Battleworld from the undead, otherworldly, and Ultron-related nastiness in the South.  Things are bad even though she has the likes of Kang, America Chavez, Katherine Bishop, Leonardo Da Vinci, and several hundred clones of Scott Summers (the “Endless Summers”) on her side.  Then she finds out that the wall is destined to fall in a couple of days as a result of someone named Thanos.

“Siege” is both a “greatest hits” collection for the writer as well as a showcase for all of the ideas that he either couldn’t get to or were just too crazy for the Marvel Universe.  While it’s great seeing Brand and Unit here again (and bonus points for the person who had the bright idea to round out this collection with the two-part story from “Uncanny X-Men” featuring the manipulative genocidal robot), things like Da Vinci and his Enlightenment Cannon and his new take on the Fury are genuinely inspired.  Gillen also digs deeper into the conversation between Thanos and Ben Grimm that sets up the destruction of the Shield to great results.

My only complaint with this story is that I’m not a fan of artist Filipe Andrade’s style which shoots for expressionistic and comes off looking rushed and unfinished.  Better are the double-page spreads from the likes of James Stokoe, Juan Jose Ryp, Mike Kaluta, and Bill Sienkiewicz — any of whom I would’ve loved to see handle full art chores for this series.  Even with the disappointing art, this series shows how great a fit Gillen was for the Marvel Universe.  The man deserves all of the creative and financial success he’s seeing with his creator-owned work (along with “Darth Vader”), but I’m really going to miss seeing him work his magic in this particular universe.

Jason Aaron, on the other hand, will be around here for a while yet with his commitments to writing “Doctor Strange” and “Thor.”  I’m sure he’ll also deliver much better stories than “Thors” which actually winds up being less entertaining than the two issues from Walt Simonson featuring the “Frog of Thunder” that are included to round out this collection.  It’s not that the concept behind this miniseries is bad:  We get an inside look at the Battleworld police force of Thors as Ultimate Thor works to solve the mystery of a serial killer who’s killing only one person in all the different regions.  That person is Jane Foster.  It’s played as a police procedural (dubbed “Thor and Order” on the back cover, though I prefer “Law and Thorder”) and filled out with Aaron’s brand of over-the-top trappings as Ultimate Thor’s reputation is built on arresting the likes of Hulks and Ghost Riders.

The procedural format is followed dutifully and even allows for some inspired moments such as when Ultimate Thor interrogates Loki.  Yet the story never really takes off into must-read territory, we’re never given a proper explanation as to why these Jane Fosters are being killed, and there’s an awful plot hole near the end of the story involving the killer and his worthiness that is handwaved away.  While the current Thor does play a role here, it doesn’t appear to be of that much relevance to the story Aaron is telling in her title.  Frankly, I would’ve liked to have seen her play a more central role here.  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see her investigate the serial killing of… herself!  At least the miniseries does feature some slick art from Chris Sprouse, with Goran Sudzuka pitching in for the middle two issues, that makes things like Groot Thor fun to see.  Still, this isn’t Aaron’s best work and it’s something that I can only recommend to completists in the end.

Between the eight million copies of “X-Men #1” and the premiere of the animated series back in the early 90’s, you could argue that was the peak of the franchise in the public mindshare.  That’s what writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims are attempting to tap into with “X-Men ‘92 vol. 0:  Warzones!” as we get the cast of the animated series dealing with an all-new threat in Battleworld.  With the “Westchester Wars” behind them, the team — made up of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, and Jubliee — has little to do besides hone their skills with games of lazer tag at the local mall.  That is, until a rogue sentinel attacks and they’re informed by Baron (Senator) Robert Kelly that the “evil mutants” from that conflict have been taken to Clear Mountain for purposes of reformation.  Sensing something isn’t right with this plan, the team takes a trip out to the facility themselves to get some answers from its director Cassandra Nova.

If you didn’t recognize that name, then this may not be the story for you.  Nova is from Grant Morrison’s “X-Men” run, but she’s been re-configured quite well to fit into the context of the animated series.  That being said, the story Bowers and Sims are telling requires both familiarity with the X-comics at their commercial heyday, the animated series, and America’s Bureau of Standards and Practices (not the Bureau of Super-Powers) in order to get all the jokes here.  I actually fall into that category and most of this miniseries was pretty entertaining as a result.  Particularly when a domesticated, family friendly version of Wolverine breaks free of his brainwashing after he can’t bust out his claws to save a woman and she tells him to get Cyclops to rescue her instead.  Bowers and Sims have a great understanding of the characters in this context, and artist Scott Koblish is clearly in on the joke as well, yet they’re targeting a very specific range of fandom here.  If you’re like me, then give this series a shot.  Maybe the ongoing series as well.  Otherwise, it’s probably best to leave this one on the shelf.

Batman & Robin Eternal vol. 1

The sprawling “Batman Eternal” weekly series gets a follow-up of sorts focusing on all of the sidekicks the Caped Crusader has had over the years.  It may be telling a less epic story in half the space (this ran for 26 issues rather than 52), but that decision turns out to be the right one as things get off to a strong start here.  Years ago, in a case involving the Scarecrow, Batman and Robin came across a human trafficker known only as Mother.  She dealt in supplying the super-rich with people who had been brainwashed and modified to meet their every need.  Mother was never brought to justice for reasons unknown, which catches us up to the present day as Dick Grayson comes face-to-face with her handiwork while on a mission for Spyral in Gotham.  This leads the former Robin to team up with other former Robins Jason Todd and Tim Drake, Batgirl, Bluebird, Spoiler, and even the “We Are Robin” movement to find out just what Mother’s game is here.  Also, to answer the question of whether or not Batman actually killed for this person in order to secure her services to make Dick into a stronger and better Robin.

I wouldn’t recommend this story to first-time “Batman” readers, but that’s the kind of person you’d have to be in order to take that question seriously at all.  However, Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are responsible for the story behind this series and it’s safe to say that they’re aware of that.  So it’s all a matter of accepting it and letting yourself be taken along for a ride by a couple of pros and the talented group of writers (in addition to Tynion, Tim Seeley, Genevieve Valentine, and Steve Orlando are some of the writers working on the individual issues) who are on hand to realize the story.  If you can do this, then you’ll be rewarded with a fast-paced action story that has lots of twists and a strong focus on its cast of supporting Bat-characters.  The writers do a great job of nailing the dynamics between these characters and in re-introducing pre-”New 52 Batgirl” Cassandra Cain — though the jury’s still out on their work with Azrael.  Some parts of the story will flow better the more well-versed you are with the other Bat-titles (on that note, “Superheavy” is the most relevant here as it explains Bruce Wayne’s current status quo), yet there’s enough context provided for you to suss things out if you pay attention.  Even if we know that Batman didn’t kill anyone for Mother or have her make a better Robin, it looks like the explanation as to what really happened is going to be a fun one.

Star Wars: Chewbacca

Everyone’s favorite wookiee gets his own miniseries from Marvel with some fantastic art from Phil Noto!  Seriously, the art is the strongest thing about this series as Noto invests a great amount of detail and style in rendering the world that Chewbacca has crash-landed on.  From the mines filled with explosive larvae, to the rural and wasted countryside, and the bustling starport, everything on the page really draws you in.  The artist also gets the look of familiar “Star Wars” characters and tech, like the Stormtroopers and Star Destroyers, just right while making new things like partially enviro-suited crime boss Jaum look like they belong to the same universe.  Noto’s storytelling is spot-on as well.  This is particularly true with the main character as Chewbacca may only grunt or roar in the dialogue bubbles, but always gets his point across through (usually very violent) action.

I want to stress that last part because it’s the only halfway decent one that writer Gerry Duggan came up with for this miniseries.  While we’re used to having wookiee-speak interpreted by someone like Han Solo who is fluent in it, that’s not the case here.  It’s an interesting dynamic to observe as Chewbacca is paired up with a young girl named Zarro whose family has been taken as slaves to work in Jaum’s mine.  The problem is that as the two can’t properly converse with each other, Duggan has Zarro driving the conversation at every opportunity and turning her into a spunky female protagonist who Will.  Not.  Shut.  Up.  Duggan has some experience with a protagonist like that with his still-ongoing stint on “Deadpool,” but Zarro doesn’t have half the personality that the Merc With a Mouth does.  There is a general irreverence to be seen in most of the dialogue here, which is nice.  Regrettably, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the core story Chewbacca finds himself in — that of a warrior with a mission who finds himself sidetracked by the plight of others — is awfully generic and would’ve worked just as well with any other “Star Wars” character.  

Weak as the story is, “Chewbacca” isn’t a bad read thanks to Noto’s art.  Which also raises my interest for the “Poe Dameron” series he’s illustrating.  It is, however, the least of Marvel’s “Star Wars” output so far.

Inuyashiki vol. 3

I talked about the first two volumes a bit at the end of the “Gantz” podcast as they represented a dramatic shift from mangaka Hiroya Oku’s seinen sci-fi action series.  It’s still a sci-fi action tale, but one more concerned with how a timid old man, the titular Inuyashiki, adapts to the power granted to him by his rebuilt alien war machine body and his perceived loss of humanity.  While the second volume indicated that the primary conflict in this series would be between the old man and a teenage boy who was transformed in the same way but doesn’t possess the same morality, vol. 3 takes us down a different and decidedly less interesting path.

The volume starts off by introducing us to a tall, dark-skinned, decidedly ruthless yakuza and lets us know that he’s into rough, dominant sex with either gender.  We’re then shown an average, happy couple and the girl eventually catches the yakuza’s eye with predictably dire circumstances.  I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone if I say that Inuyashiki eventually shows up and starts fighting the good fight against less-than-impossible odds.  This is familiar, predictable stuff.  Oku’s chops for depicting action in manga are still intact, and while he does his level best to get us to care for the new couple and hiss the new villain his efforts never really overcome the fact that we’ve seen this stuff done before and better elsewhere.

It all leads up to a volume that doesn’t feel satisfying in terms of storytelling or the amount of content delivered.  Even if individual volumes of “Gantz” had their problems (and boy did they have some problems…), there was still a meaningful amount of progression to the story in each of them.  With this volume of “Inuyashiki,” it feels like the main story was put on hold for Oku to tell a generic action story where his protagonist shows up halfway through it to go beat on some bad, bad men and save a happy couple.  We don’t even get the end of this story here — we’ll have to wait until vol. 4 comes out for that!  This series started out with such great potential, but now I’m starting to think that Oku doesn’t have a plan for it and is just making it up as he goes.  To fairly dull results as seen here.

Thief of Thieves vol. 5: Take Me

After the previous volume saw master thief Conrad “Redmond” Paulson get himself and his family out from under the thumb of Lola, it would appear that our protagonist has finally got everything he ever wanted.  Well, except for the fact that his ex-wife still hates him.  And, more pressingly, his former partner Celia is still pestering him about getting back into the game.  After (a night of booze and sex) Conrad shuts her down, Celia makes the highly questionable decision to assume the Redmond name for herself.  Thanks to the involvement of disgraced former FBI agent Elizabeth Cohen, this goes about as well as you’d expect it to for someone who was only part of a master thief’s gang.  Now the FBI is looking to pin ALL of Redmond’s crimes onto Celia and the rest of her gang is worried that she’ll crack and spill her guts on their entire operation.  Looks like it’s time for Conrad to come out of retirement to sort things out his way.

In the face of declining sales and the conclusion to all of the major story threads in the previous volume, I was expecting this to bring the “Thief of Thieves” adventure to a close.  As I mentioned last week, that’s not the case.  However, vol. 5 doesn’t lay the best groundwork for things going forward.  On one hand, writer Andy Diggle makes the action hum along as skillfully as you’d expect from his previous efforts, and his work rehabilitating the character of Conrad’s son Augustus can now be described as “astonishing” after this volume.  I was actually sympathetic to the young man’s plight here as we see him trying to make a go at a normal life only to be dragged back into the game by his dad.

That part is emblematic of the volume’s biggest failing as it gives us a Conrad that’s more self-centered and arrogant than we’ve seen before.  Not that these aren’t new traits for him, but they’re presented in a way here that makes him both unlikeable and suggests that the series going forward will be about seeing him get what he deserves.  Which is decidedly contrary to how the title has operated up to this point.  Even with Diggle’s skills, and the always-slick art of Shawn Martinbrough, I’m not sure if that’s the kind of story I want to be reading here.

DC Previews Picks: June 2016

Don’t call it a reboot, because they’ve been to that well a bit too often for that to work again.  As DC describes it, “Rebirth” is simply the company getting back to the basics of their characters and focusing on what works best for them.  While most of the titles and creative teams weren’t that surprising, there were a few notable ones:  Gene Luen Yang giving us a Chinese Superman in “New Super-Man,” Scott Snyder one-upping Frank Miller with “All-Star Batman,” and Greg Rucka actually working with DC again with his return to “Wonder Woman.”  These strike me as the must-read titles for the relaunch with most everything else falling into various shades of “We’ll see.”

This is also old news, but most of the titles featuring A-list characters will be double-shipping every month.  The thinking here is that instead of throwing a lot of stuff at the wall in the hopes that it’ll stick, DC will earn greater profits and marketshare by putting out more issues of titles that are guaranteed to sell better.  Of course, the fans buying these titles will have less money to spend on other titles and standard attrition will mean that these double-shipping titles will lose more readers in a shorter amount of time.  I don’t mind this development.  As an avowed trade-waiter, this just means that we’ll get the collected editions that much sooner!

DC Universe:  Rebirth #1:  Written by Geoff Johns with several of his favorite collaborators, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, and Ethan Van Sciver (and Phil Jimenez) along for the ride.  There’s no information about what this giant-sized issue (80 pages for $2.99!) is about beyond the declaration that, “It all starts here!”  Does DC have a plan to give their universe an ongoing narrative much in the same way that Marvel has managed to with their events over the years?  If they are, then letting Johns do the driving is a smart move seeing as how he has given the company many of its most memorable events over the years.

Superman:  Rebirth #1/Action Comics #958:  Peter Tomasi writes  “Superman” which has the Man of Steel dealing with the perils of… fatherhood?  Meanwhile, Dan Jurgens has Lex Luthor declaring himself to be the next Superman in “Action Comics.”  The idea of Superman as a father has potential, but it’s also not something that I’ve ever really wanted to see in his ongoing adventures.  Now that the kid is here, he kind of has to be acknowledged in every story.  As for “Action Comics,” seeing Luthor step up and try to compete with Supes on equal terms sounds like a great hook for a story.  I haven’t read Jurgens work as a writer since the 90’s, but I may see about giving his work here a shot.  (Also, going back to the original numbering for “Action/Detective Comics” is cool.  It’ll be neat to see the #1000th issues of both titles.)

Batman:  Rebirth #1 & Green Lanterns:  Rebirth #1:  Notable because both of these titles are being co-written by people who are responsible for the most creatively and commercially successful runs involving these characters in recent memory.  Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns, respectively.  I think the idea behind having them as co-writers for these issues is to provide fans a “good housekeeping seal of approval” for incoming writers Tom King on “Batman” and Sam Humphries on “Green Lanterns.”  I don’t think it’ll work, but it’s cute that DC thinks it will.  As for the writers themselves, I still have yet to read anything from King — though that will change when the first volume of “The Sheriff of Babylon” arrives with the other titles in these solicitations (or if the first volume of “The Vision” from Marvel arrives first).  Humphries, on the other hand, did a decent enough job with “Uncanny X-Force,” but he largely fumbled the handoff on “The Ultimates” from Jonathan Hickman.  I’ll likely pass on the new “Green Lanterns” title here unless the word of mouth turns out to be particularly strong.

Wonder Woman:  Rebirth #1/Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka vol. 1:  Greg Rucka doesn’t write bad comics.  Well, except for that one time that the Punisher entered the war zone, but that was clearly an exception!  The fact that he’s back at DC after several years of bad blood between him and the publisher suggests some combination of having another “Wonder Woman” story he really wants to tell and being offered a really sweet deal to do so.  I, uh… actually missed out on buying his “Wonder Woman” the first time around for reasons that currently escape me.  Fortunately my error is being rewarded by DC re-collecting his run in fewer volumes.

Justice League #’s 51 & 52:  Because all of the other titles that were still running since the launch of “The New 52” made it to their 52nd issues, this one will too!  It’ll just do it without original writer Geoff Johns as two Dans — Jurgens and Abnett — take over writing chores for an issue each.  What’re they about?  Who cares!  This version of “Justice League” now has 52 issues and that’s all that matters here.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HC:  In all honesty, it’s more surprising that we only got this series recently as opposed to the “Turtles’” 90’s heyday.  I’m all for checking it out, as the involvement of veteran Bat-scribe James Tynion IV and artist Freddie Williams suggests that it’ll be a solid read if nothing else.  Am I going to do it with this hardcover?  Unless I can find it for half off somewhere, then no.  Regardless of how this turns out to be quality-wise it doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing that warranted the hardcover treatment.

The Demon vol. 2:  The Longest Day:  Collecting the rest of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s run on the title.  Chances are you already know whether or not you’ll be picking this up when it comes out.  However, if you’re still on the fence about it, I have it on good authority that you can expect to see the demon Baytor crowned as King of Hell and all of his minions bellowing in unison, “ALL HAIL THE MASTER… BAYTOR!!!”

…Or was that cut because the editors figured out what Ennis was doing right there.  Well, even if that gag isn’t there, it’s still eminently representative of the kind of humor you can expect to see in this collection.  And in Ennis’ less serious works as well.

DC Elseworlds:  Justice League:  Among other things, this volume collects the “Titans:  Scissors, Paper, Stone” one-shot by Adam Warren.  This makes it relevant to my interests, but not quite to the point that it justifies the $35 cover price by itself.  Yes, there are other stories collected in this 424-page volume, but this is the only one that I really want to read.  Maybe it’ll come on sale digitally at some point…

Superman:  American Alien HC:  Did we really need another look at Superman’s formative years?  Even if it’s from “Chronicle” screenwriter Max Landis?  According to what I’ve read, the answer is “Yes!”  Rather than the work of a Hollywood writer indulging himself, “American Alien” is apparently a heartfelt and illuminating look at young Clark Kent’s life.  The fact that it features great art from the likes of Nick Dragotta, Joelle Jones, and Jae Lee is just the gravy.  Now this is a project that warrants the hardcover treatment it’s getting.