Monthly Archives: May 2016

Dark Horse Previews Picks: August 2016

I’ve been writing these “Previews Picks” ahead of my trip to Fanime and I’ve been saving this one for last.  Mainly because I thought that after nothing came out of Sakura-Con, we’d get some juicy news from Dark Horse Manga at Anime Central this past weekend.  As it turned out, they didn’t even have a panel at the convention.  Carl Horn will be at Fanime carrying the banner for the company, but I’m not expecting any announcements from the con.  Much as I love it, Fanime just isn’t high profile enough for a major manga publisher to use it as a platform.  I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong here, though.

So since the major news about Dark Horse in the past month is a lack of news, let’s talk about that new Comixology Unlimited service that was just announced.  It’s a Netflix-style subscription plan for titles from Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Kodansha, and more where you can add trade paperbacks and single issues to your library for the low price of $5.99 a month.  Anyone interested can try out the service with the free 30-day trial Comixology is offering right now.

It sounds like a fantastic deal.  Who wouldn’t want the comics equivalent of Netflix for these publishers!?  After a closer look, I don’t think that’s what we’re getting.  While Netflix rose to fame on the wide variety of movies, and (in particular) TV shows it had available for streaming, Comixology Unlimited appears to just be offering readers the first few volumes or issues of a given title.  The plan here looks to get readers started on a series and then transition them over to actually paying for it if they like that first free taste.  It’s not a bad deal for what it is, but it’s not what I wanted.  Which would be free access to EVERYTHING from these publishers.  I’ll see what I can read for my 30-day trial and that’ll be it.

Black Dog:  The Dreams of Paul Nash:  Nash was a surrealist painter who lived during WWI who produced “psychoscapes” to help deal with the trauma of the war.  This graphic novel based on his life comes from writer/artist Dave McKean, best known for his collaborations with Neil Gaiman on “Black Orchid,” “Mr. Punch,” and the covers for every issue of “The Sandman.”  McKean’s surrealist art is something of an acquired taste and while I can certainly respect his talent, I’m not about to rush out and buy this when it arrives in October.  If anything, I should probably get around to checking out his older, and enduring work as a writer/artist “Cages” which is being offered again by the company in this month’s solicitations.

Briggs Land #1:  Brian Wood is back in the creator-owned game at Dark Horse with a promising new crime story.  The title site in this series is home to the largest anti-government secessionist movement in the country.  It’s also one that has undergone a change in leadership as matriarch Grace Briggs has wrested control from her incarcerated husband.  Now she has to deal with the members of her family who aren’t too happy with her actions, and do so in a way that doesn’t bring down the F.B.I. on their heads.  Wood has done a lot of good stories over the years about people fighting the forces in power, though this one seems more grounded in current events than the others.  So long as he avoids the sci-fi shenanigans that dragged down “The Massive,” this should be a must-read series when it’s collected.

The Goon Library vol. 4:  Worth mentioning because it collects vols. 10-12 of the series.  Or, the last time it was truly funny and entertaining before creator Eric Powell became bored with his signature series and decided to turn it into a full-on tragic drama.  If you like what you read here, then don’t bother with vol. 5.

Hatsune Miku:  Mikubon & Oreimo Comic Anthology:  While I’m still waiting for word regarding the company’s new round of manga licenses, here’s a glimpse into its future.  These are two titles with a significant presence in other media — Hatsune Miku being a world-conquering virtual ido and “Oreimo” (the colloquial version of the full Japanese title which translates to “I Can’t Believe My Little Sister is This Cute!”) being an anime that was kinda popular a few years back.  The “Hatsune Mix” manga was Dark Horse’s biggest manga success in recent years while the “Oreimo” manga apparently sell well enough to keep bringing more over.  “Mikubon” is about Hatsune Miku and her other Vocaloid friends attending the St. Diva Academy and “Comic Anthology” has 21 artists taking on “Oreimo” along the same lines of the “Evangelion Comic Tribute.”  I look at these two titles and see a horrifying future for manga at Dark Horse where it only has appeal to fans of the properties that a given title is being spun off from.  It’s why I was so emphatic about recommending “I Am A Hero” to readers in my review of it.  On that note…

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol. 2:  In which disturbed mangaka Hideo Suzuki continues his flight from the epidemic of rabid zombies.  The first volume ended with the man realizing that the gun he was carrying might be of some use in this scenario.  Maybe he’ll actually get around to using it here.  If it sounds like I’m being rough on the series, that’s just because the slow pace of the first omnibus was its only real flaw.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what fresh new hell awaits our protagonist, which is said to include an encounter with a young girl in a “suicide forest.”

Hellboy in Hell vol. 2:  The Death Card:  That’s it?  Hellboy’s odyssey in the underworld comes to an end after ten irregularly published issues over three years and two collected editions?  This strikes me as being somewhat… underwhelming.  We are promised the introduction of his sister(!) and the destruction of Pandemonium in this volume, so it’s not like there won’t be a lack of action.  Is it meant to mark the end of the character’s adventures in the ongoing arc regarding the end of his world?  That’s what I really want to know.  The answer I get may determine whether or not Hellboy’s narrative has finally been upstaged by the one over in “B.P.R.D.”

Moebius Library:  The World of Edena HC:  The late, legendary French artist’s work is getting the deluxe treatment from Dark Horse, starting with this series about a couple of interstellar repairment.  Stel and Atan start off trying to find a lost space station and its crew and wind up on the path of the mythical paradise planet known as Edena.  My experience with Moebius can be described as, uh, lacking.  So I’ll be looking to rectify that starting with this hardcover.  I would say that it’s a bit pricey at $50 for 344 pages, but then I remember that the “Secret Wars” hardcover cost the same and offered less.  Picking this up seems like a no-brainer now.

World of Tanks #1 (of 5):  Yes, this is a miniseries based on the popular MMO game that has players fighting each other with tanks in a WWII setting.  This doesn’t sound like the most promising setup for a miniseries, until someone at Dark Horse had the bright idea to get Garth Ennis to write it and Carlos Ezquerra to illustrate it.  I don’t think the game has any real plot to speak of, so I’m betting that it was easy to get Ennis onboard since the only requirement would have to be for him to write a WWII story that featured tanks.  As he has shown in the “Tommy’s Heroes” arc from “Hitman” and the “Tankies” stories from “Battlefields,” this is not something that the writer has a problem with doing or doing well.  The collected edition is as anticipated as any Ennis war comic can be around here.

Marvel Previews Picks: August 2016

Well, it finally happened.  After years of constant delays/postponements, Marvel has finally cancelled the next two issues of Bendis and Mark Bagley’s creator-owned series “Brilliant.”  The first five issues were published erratically over the course of a year and the first volume wasn’t bad.  It did, however, end on a note that was clearly meant to springboard the next arc.  Whether or not we’ll ever see it is anyone’s guess at this point.

Part of me wants to put the reasons why we never saw these issues and their cancellation down to Bendis himself.  After all, he’s the one who has over-committed himself with multiple ongoing titles in the Marvel Universe and additional delayed creator-owned projects.  Bagley, on the other hand, is one of the fastest artists in the business and should’ve been able to draw scripts for “Brilliant” if he had received them.  Except that the artist has also been kept very busy by Marvel over the past few years, including multiple collaborations with Bendis.  The long-delayed pronouncement of “Brilliant’s” death is down to a combined effort on the part of its writer and artist as I see it.

Now it’s time to actually see if we’ll get the next three issues of Bendis and Alex Maleev’s “Scarlet” after all these years.  They’ve been solicited, but will they actually show up?

The Fallen #1 & The Accused #1:  Both are one-shot tie-ins to “Civil War II.”  Both are also “Classified” regarding their actual content.  If you want to know what’s so special about them, you’ll have to pay $5 for each of them when they come out in August.  Or, you could just wait until the internet spoils them in the week that they arrive.  I know which option I’ll be taking here.

All-New All-Different Avengers Annual #1:  And I thought that the “Civil War II” tie-in madness had reached its peak last month.  Now pretty much everything is tying into the event and it’s actually proving to find something interesting to write about here.  Fortunately, this Annual has a killer idea to set it apart from the crowd:  Kamala Khan’s fan-fiction!  You’ve heard it mentioned in the pages of “Ms. Marvel” and “Avengers,” now you’re finally going to see it in action thanks to the efforts of Mark Waid, G. Willow Wilson, Faith Erin Hicks, Mahmud Asrar, Veronica Fish, and (I assume) equally talented creators who haven’t been announced yet!  Should make for a great read for me when it’s finally collected.

Hyperion #6:  Still not convinced this is an essential read.  Except, that is a pretty sweet cover from Elizabeth Torque.  Just thought that was worth mentioning.

Amazing Spider-Man #’s 16-17:  And the reason Spidey just has a miniseries tie-in to “Civil War II” is because his main title is gearing up for the “Dead No More” event.  This is where all sorts of characters of varying significance are being brought back to further some villain’s mysterious agenda.  The first volume of Dan Slott’s “Amazing” showed us that people important to the Rhino and the Lizard have been resurrected, while the returns of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy have also been teased in the promotional materials.  Doc Ock’s return has also been teased, but that looks to be a different (and likely more permanent) kind of beast than what we’re getting with these other characters.  It may look like Slott is breaking all sorts of taboos here, but at this point everyone should know that’s just a swerve.  We’ll have to wait until the actual event kicks off to find out what his real plan is.

Darth Vader #25:  To my surprise, this is the final issue of the series.  It turns out that Kieron Gillen did have a specific plan for his run:  To show how Vader regained his standing after the destruction of the Death Star in “A New Hope.”  That the series is ending now that his planned story has come to an end is still pretty surprising.  Given that the series is still selling extremely well, you’d think that Marvel would find someone else to take over for the writer and keep the party going.  Hmmmm… now that I think about it, that’s how Old Marvel used to work.  Marvel these days is just going to relaunch “Darth Vader” with a new #1 issue all for that delicious sales spike, and then start to panic when things dip below what Gillen’s run was selling.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The first two volumes of Gillen’s run were great and even with the “Vader Down” speed bump, the fact that the series is ending on his terms indicates that it’ll likely be a very worthy finish.

Powers #7:  Yup, this is still going.  By the time this issue comes out, the second season of the TV series will have been out for a couple months.  No points on guessing when we’ll be seeing the next issue now that Mike Oeming is working on “Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye” with Gerard Way over at DC.

Deadpool by Posehn and Duggan Omnibus:  If the latest volume is any indication, this will wind up being the “good half” of Duggan’s run.  Sarcasm aside, this is the take on the character that I’ve enjoyed the most.  It’s primarily a comedy, but the dramatic moments just spice things up instead of detract from the entertainment.

Black Panther vol. 1:  A Nation Under Our Feet:  Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze’s take on T’Challa and his kingdom has already given us the biggest-selling issue of 2016 so far.  One that also netted its fair share of critical acclaim as well.  So yeah, I’m interested in checking this out.  The fact that it’s only collecting the first four issues suggests that the experience is going to be on the thin side, but Marvel is bulking up the collection with a reprint of the Panther’s first appearance in “Fantastic Four” #52 and “more than 25 pages of bonus content.”  All I can say about the latter part is that some insight into Coates’ writing process and thoughts about the story and characters would be all that’s needed to make them worthwhile to me.

Secret Wars Too:  Collecting the title one-shot as well as all of the other such issues relating to Marvel events over the years.  Are any of them worth reading?  *shrugs*  However, Hickman himself is contributing a story here about the creation of “Secret Wars” which could be amusing, but is likely to be more interesting for any “between the lines” stuff he manages to sneak in about the process.  That’s not worth buying this collection for, but I will keep an eye out for it if the issue containing his story winds up on sale at Comixology one of these days.

Karnak vol. 1:  The Flaw in All Things:  What was meant to be one of the few good “Inhuman” titles was waylaid by massive delays as a result of bad personal circumstances on the part of its original artist Gerardo Zaffino.  I’m also sure that Warren Ellis’ problematic medical event from last year didn’t help things either.  No issues past the ones that are collected here have been solicited, but that may change once this volume comes out.  Assuming sales are good.  However, is this series going to be worth reading if Ellis doesn’t stick around?  I imagine Karnak, with his flaw-seeing abilities and all, would have some choice words about that.

DC Previews Picks: August 2016

Originally this was going to be about Geoff Johns’ ascent in the Warner Bros/DC Films hierarchy.  The short version was that I generally saw this as a good thing, particularly if it allows for Johns to put his foot down if he didn’t like something that filmmakers were doing with Superman.  He has done some really good stories featuring the character, after all.

Then spoilers regarding “Rebirth” #1 broke and one of them in particular is a lot more interesting to write about.  The big reveal (which is all over the internet at this point so there’s no use worrying about spoilers) is that “Watchmen” is being brought into the continuity of the DC Universe.  Specifically, Dr. Manhattan is revealed as the being responsible for the creation of the “New 52” and his presence will serve as an antagonistic force for the heroes of the DCU to push back against over the next couple of years.  The other Watchmen aren’t mentioned, though speculation is that Johns has been seeding them into continuity under our noses with his runs on “Superman” and “Justice League.”

As a surprise reveal, this is top-class.  I never thought that DC would actually do something like this in regards to one of their most respected works.  Part of “Watchmen’s” appeal is that it’s a stand-alone work where you don’t have to worry about any of the superhero continuity that it’s now being made a part of.  So I can’t deny that there’s a transgressive thrill to seeing them take this final step.  In retrospect, it seems surprising that they didn’t do this sooner since it’s clear that they have no intention at all of ever returning these characters to Alan Moore.

Which brings us to the fact that “ethically bankrupt” is one of the nicer things I’ve read as a description for what DC is doing here.  Apparently the massive trolling exercise of Alan Moore with “Before Watchmen” wasn’t enough and now Johns is effectively making the curmudgeon the force for grim and grittiness in this new story while he himself tries to bring light and optimism back to the DCU.  Johns is a talented writer who has shown that he knows how to incorporate meta concepts quite well into his stories.  I’m sure what he’s writing here may even be good.

It still doesn’t change the fact that DC’s treatment of one of the greatest writers in comics has been frankly abominable over these past few decades.  Moore deserves better from the company and this is just one more kick in the nuts.  Which is how I see it — Moore probably couldn’t care less about “Watchmen” at this point.  I passed on reading any of the “Before Watchmen” comics for this reason, and I’m going to do my best to avoid picking up any future stories that feature these characters in a prominent role.  There are a lot of good intentions and ideas behind this “Rebirth” initiative at DC.  However, the new comic from Johns shows that they are being built on the worst of business practices.

Now, here are some thoughts on comics that don’t involve “Watchmen” (at least not yet anyway):

All-Star Batman #1:  No, we’re never going to see the end of Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s “so bad it’s awesome” story.  Instead we’re getting Scott Snyder taking a Bat-victory lap after his run on “Batman” with a series that digs into Batman’s rogues gallery and is illustrated a host of the industry’s best artists.  First up is a Two-Face story with John Romita Jr.  While that alone is enough to get me interested, I’ve also heard that this is going to be a road trip story that will take Batman way out of Gotham.  Bring it on!

Suicide Squad Rebirth and #1:  In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a movie based on these guys coming out the month these issues are scheduled to hit stands.  So DC has paired up-and-coming writer Rob Williams, fresh off his acclaimed run on “Martian Manhunter,” with artists Phillip Tan and *drumroll* Jim Lee.  Not sure if I’ll be picking this up, even though I’ve heard good things about Williams since he was writing for Marvel.  I’ll have to give his Vertigo series “Unfollow” a shot to see what he’s really capable of.  That said, putting Lee on this title shows that DC is serious about making this run of the “Squad” a big deal.

However, neither of these issues may wind up being the best story featuring the team this month.  A decade after he made his return with “From the Ashes,”  John Ostrander returns to the “Squad” with the extra-sized “War Crimes” one shot.  The team is tasked with rescuing a retired American politician from testifying in a European trial where he’s likely to reveal some ugly truths about his home country.  It sounds like the perfect morally ambiguous political setup for an Ostrander-written “Suicide Squad” story.

Batman #’s 4-5:  Where we get two issues of art from David Finch in a single month.  That may be what these solicitations say, but I find the odds of that actually happening only slightly less than Bruce Wayne entering the current election as a third party candidate.  Expect some “Ch-ch-changes” before these issues hit stands.

Justice League #’s 2-3 and Justice League of America #12 and Annual #1:  Remember what I said about this happening last month?  Now I can say I TOTALLY CALLED IT!

Sixpack and Dogwelder:  Hard-Traveling Heroz #1 (of 6):  You know, I didn’t think the previous “All-Star Section Eight” minseries did all that well for DC.  Goes to show what I know as we’re getting a follow-up that shows us a fractured team and a road trip if the title is anything to go by.  The solicitation text also strongly hints that John Constantine will be showing up to kick the story off.  Which will be interesting since, after writing one of the better “Hellblazer” runs, Garth Ennis has been pretty dismissive of the character in recent years.  Given that Constantine is now a citizen of the DCU, maybe he’s just showing up here so that Ennis can troll him about that.  It’s also worth noting that the series is trading one trusted Ennis collaborator for another on art:  John McCrea for Russ Braun.  No worries there as Braun’s years with Ennis on the latter half of “The Boys” showed that both creators can do great work together.

The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman Deluxe HC:  “Across the Universe,” the corresponding volume of miscellaneous DCU work from Alan Moore, is recommended for any fan of the writer or the characters he’s writing.  This, well, Gaiman’s superhero work has never felt as seamless or effortless as Moore’s.  He’s done some good stuff, like Marvel’s “1602,” but there has also been just as much that hasn’t worked, like his “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” story featured here.  Unless you’re a rabid Gaiman completist, make like Two-Face and flip a coin on this one.

The Flash by Mark Waid Book One:  It’s worth noting that we got the collection of “Flash” stories from Grant Morrison and Mark Millar that ran in the middle of Waid’s legendary run on this title before this volume.  Hailed by many as the run that helped make DC fun again and define the company’s publishing efforts in the late 90’s, we should’ve had this collected years ago.  Unfortunately Waid left DC under a black cloud after his last return to the character and hasn’t been back since.  The fact that we’re getting this at all is likely down to someone at DC going, “Well, we’re pretty much through reprinting all of the other definitive runs on our characters from major writers, so…”  Or maybe this just slipped past Dan Didio’s attention in these solicitations and will be quietly cancelled before August rolls around.  If this does make it out, it’ll going right into my library.

Image Previews Picks: August 2016

It turns out that the third volume of “Rat Queens” did represent the beginning of the end for that series.  Just not in the way that I thought it would.  While issue #16 came out a couple weeks ago, word came out from artist Tess Fowler a couple weeks ago that she was being pushed out of the series to make way for the return of co-creator/original artist Roc Upchurch.  This is after he departed the book amidst charges of domestic abuse and Fowler was apparently told by co-creator/writer Kurtis J. Wiebe that Upchurch would not be returning to the series.  It’s an ugly situation that Fowler is taking in stride and coming out looking like a champ through the good vibes she’s been maintaining through her Twitter posts on the matter and refusal to turn this into a crusade/vendetta against the “Rat Queens” creators.  As for the series itself, it was already on hiatus and Wiebe has said that he’s not sure what the future holds for the series — if there even is one — as he needs to find his voice for the series again.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wiebe leaves the series behind altogether.  He’s got a new series, “Bounty,” lined up over at Dark Horse and has shown himself to be a fairly prolific man of ideas with all of the other series he has done through Image.  “Rat Queens” was his biggest success, but this new controversy has sadly turned it radioactive with an unknown half-life.

The Black Monday Murders #1:  Jonathan Hickman’s new series, with art from Tomm Coker, imagines a world where the banks control all the power… because they’re actually fronts for ages-old clans of magicians!  Russian vampire oligarchs, Black Popes, enchanted American aristocrats, and the IMF’s own cadre of hitmen are all promised here.  It may be a crazy premise, but Hickman has shown that’s the kind he thrives on digging into.  The challenge here will be in seeing whether or not he can keep it going.  “East of West” is currently his longest-running creator-owned series, with “The Manhattan Projects” on hiatus, and “The Dead and the Dying” waiting for the right moment to spring back to life (I think).  Now that he’s no longer steering his massive “Avengers”/”New Avengers” run at Marvel, the odds would appear to be in Hickman’s favor for a long and successful run on this title.

Kill or be Killed #1:  Brubaker and Phillips are at it again.  This time with a character who is forced to kill bad guys.  The solicitation text says “forced,” and yet it also calls this series a deconstruction of vigilantism.  So I’m guessing this is more of a psychological compulsion than a blackmail thing.  Maybe even an exploration of what Frank “The Punisher” Castle would be like in the real world after Brubaker never got around to writing the character full-time while he was at Marvel.  Still, after their return to form with “The Fade Out” (which I WILL get around to talking about in full at some point) I fully expect this to be a compelling read.

Eden’s Fall #1:  Matt Hawkins has written several titles for Top Cow — “Think Tank,” “The Tithe,” and “Postal” — that have received good reviews and word of mouth, but have yet to set the sales charts on fire.  His solution?  Combine all three into one title.  Here you have FBI agent James Miller (from “The Tithe”) investigating the town of Eden, Wyoming, which serves as an unofficial haven for criminals living off the grid (from “Postal”).  It sounds like a logical setup and even though genius arms developer David Loren isn’t mentioned by name here, he’s on one of the covers.  I liked “Think Tank” and “The Tithe” well enough, but have yet to get around to reading “Postal” which Hawkins co-wrote with Bryan Hill (as he does here).  My younger self probably would’ve flipped over this kind of personal crossover.  As for my jaded current self, he thinks it’s a neat trick that he’ll get around to checking out eventually.

Lake of Fire #1:  It’s 1220 A.D., the crusades are still raging, and an alien spacecraft has just crashed in the remote wilds of France.  Are these aliens the friendly and benevolent kind here to shepherd humanity through this time of religious strife and bring unto them a greater sense of unity and understanding of their fellow man?  Nope!  The ship is carrying a bunch of alien predators (unfortunately that “p” is meant to be lowercase) and it’s up to a small group of crusaders and one “heretic” to take them down.  It’s a premise that sounds just crazy enough to work… for a limited series.  There’s no indication that this series from writer/colorist Nathan Fairbairn and artist Matt Smith is only going to run for a certain number of issues.  Unless they’ve got a twist they’re saving for the first issue (which is quite likely) this sounds like the kind of setup that will work great so long as it’s kept to a run of four-to-six issues.

Saga #37 & Revival #42:  The solicitation text for these issues features two different approaches to getting trade-waiters (like yours truly) to jump onboard with reading the single issues.  “Saga” takes the friendly approach, calling their new arc an “event” that they’ve been building to since the first issue and therefore the perfect time to jump onboard the monthly train.  As for “Revival,” it takes a trolling approach which I find more amusing than anything else.  Issue #42 marks the start of the final arc of the series and the text taunts us with the reveal of Emily’s killer while also noting that trade-waiters are SCREWED if they don’t jump onboard now.  I’m just going to troll them right back by saying, “Nice try, guys.  That final volume will look better on my shelf than six individual issues.”  Well played by both camps, but I’m not jumping ship on how I read either of these titles so late into their runs.

The Autumnlands #14:  End of the second arc and… my that’s an ominous cover.  You’d think they’d wait a bit before pulling that particular trigger.  The *ahem* fallout from that should make for an interesting start to the third volume when it arrives.

East of West #29:  “At long last, Death finds his son.”  That’s not going to end well.  For anyone.  At all.

The Walking Dead #157:  Part one (of six) of “The Whisper War.”  The last time Rick Grimes went to war, it took him twelve issues to come out on top over Negan.  With six issues for this latest conflict, I’m betting that it’s going to get meaner and nastier a lot quicker.  Also, no time jumps after the war is over.  If things get as bad I think they will, Kirkman will be digging into them for material to drive the series for the next couple of years.  Also, if Rick does wind up dying in this arc, I’m going to go ahead and say “Called it!” right now.

Blood Stain vol. 2:  In which we’ll find out if the series can actually deliver on the comedic/dramatic potential of its down on her luck college girl goes to work for mad scientist premise.  You know, as opposed to the actual first volume of this series.  I know I’m being hard on “Blood Stain,” but if the second volume delivers then all will be forgiven.

Criminal vol. 7:  Wrong Time, Wrong Place:  Huh, so two extra-sized specials actually can make for a full-sized collection.  More fun with the Lawless family in the 70’s as father Teeg tries to survive life behind bars, and son Tracy gets to practice his getaway driving skills.  It’s been a while since the last volume of this title.  Too long, to be honest.  All of the previous installments in this series from Brubaker and Phillips were great and the fact that we’re getting one more after all these years is still a good thing.

The Fix vol. 1:  In which Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber try to recapture the magic of “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man” with actual small-time crooks instead of D-list supervillains.  Again, I see nothing wrong with this.  It is worth noting that the text advertises the fact that the hero of this story is a drug-sniffing dog named Pretzels.  That’s good because that means there will be at least one likeable character in the cast, thus freeing up all of the humans to be hilariously unlikeable.

Genshiken: Second Season vol. 8

Well, vol. 7 really left me feeling that this series had gone off the rails with its focus on Madarame’s Harem.  Like all good(?) harem stories, it had several of the series’ female characters positioned as romantic interests for the man but precious little explanation as to why they felt that way.  This is even more problematic for a series like “Genshiken” which at least tries to be grounded in realistic human emotions and situations.  Yet even when I was about to resign myself to following through with this series because I had bought the previous seven volumes, vol. 8 comes along and offers me hope that it might stick the landing in the end after all.  This may seem like the ramblings of a junkie who’s trying to chase one last high, but I swear there’s actually some decent stuff in the latter half of this volume!

It does mean that you’re going to have to wade through the Valentine’s Day nonsense in the first half, though.  Which includes Hato and Sue competing in their own way for Madarame’s affections.  If you’ve been enjoying that stuff up until now, then this will be catnip for you.  As for me, the only part I really appreciated was Madarame’s terrified internal monologue about how difficult it was to maintain a “harem” situation.  His realization that while having multiple “girls” chase after the main character in an anime or manga may be ripe for ge-nu-ine hi-larity is actually horrifying in real life is actually quite satisfying.  That’s about it for entertainment in these parts, including Kuchiki’s return after being (thankfully) M.I.A. for the past several volumes.

Things don’t start getting good until Kugayama (of all people) shows up for a boozing dinner session with Madarame to discuss the otaku’s problems.  Kuga-pii, as he’s also known, was probably the least fleshed-out of the original “Genshiken” cast.  Even though it was established that he was the one member of their crew with some artistic talent, you always got the feeling that the only reason he was included was because they needed a token “fat guy” for their group.  Since then, he has actually managed to hold a steady job and can actually serve as an experienced “senpai” to Madarame.  Kugayama calls out his former clubmate for not having the balls to make an actual decision regarding the members of his harem before using his work experience allows him to suggest that they head out to a hostess club to address the confused otaku’s woes.  I never thought I’d see Kugayama in a commanding or even persuasive role, and it actually works quite well on him here.

Naturally the hostess club they wind up going to is the only one Madarame has a connection to:  The one that Keiko, Sasahara’s “gal” younger sister, works at.  It may seem like a recipe for agonizing comedic awkwardness between the two as a result.  Except, that’s not what happens.  Madarame and Keiko actually strike up a surprising amount of chemistry between their dissection of the former’s romantic ordeals.  It’s been said before in this series that Keiko was the only member of the harem that Madarame could act like himself around, but I never really believed it until I saw their interaction here.  So when Keiko invites Madarame over to her place at the end of the night, it felt like a natural and exciting development based on what had come before.

The chapter that takes place at Keiko’s apartment is easily one of the most tense and drama-filled of the entire series to date.  Contrary to what the previous volumes have tried to establish, “Genshiken” isn’t a shitty harem comedy.  Even as some of the characterizations have succumbed to contrivance they’re still grounded in relatable human interactions.  So when Keiko invites Madarame over to her place, there’s the very real chance that they’ll actually have sex.  Which means that the former will actually have to grow as a character to accommodate this development into his character and worldview.

It actually comes off really well at first. Keiko leads him on in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination.  We’re even offered up a reason as to how Madarame’s Harem developed through her conversation.  I think it’s kind of a terrible one, but at least mangaka Shimoku Kio is trying to explain things away here.  It’s all going great until it isn’t.  Without giving too much away, there’s an interruption that impresses upon Madarame the fact that “WOMEN ARE TERRIFYING!” and ends the main narrative of the volume right there.  It would also appear to rule out Keiko from his harem, but stranger things have happened yet.

The thing about these last couple chapters is that they give me hope, while re-establishing Kio’s excellent characterization skills.  After the previous volume, I was left with the feeling that Keiko was essentially a negligible member of Madarame’s Harem.  Yet through most of her tenure in vol. 8 I was actually rooting for her to become “The One” in this situation.  I kind of still am, though, it’s going to take some more work to address the surprise twist she offers up towards the end here.

What I’m getting at is that after this volume I’m at least willing to entertain the idea that the other members of Madarame’s Harem can actually become worthy romantic partners in this situation.  Except Sue — short of breaking the foundation of her character, that’s just not going to work.  So maybe the crazy train that “Genshiken” has become in the last few volumes will be able to get back on track and deliver a satisfying conclusion as it nears its end.  Or maybe not and it even winds up failing to deliver the insane fireworks that result from the ninjas escaping from the train that explode and turn into Terminators that made “Future Diary” at least an entertaining read (in my honest opinion).  I’ll be sticking around to find out.  Everyone else may want to hang back a bit until the fallout has had some time to settle.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest vol. 2

Two volumes in and I’m not feeling as nearly involved as I should be for what’s effectively being billed as the last “ElfQuest” story.  Part of that’s due to the large sense of disconnect that comes with jumping into this without being caught up on the saga’s history beforehand.  That may change when Dark Horse finally reprints the necessary stories in “The Complete ElfQuest,” but that’s several years off at this point.  Another is the fact that the story feels very unfocused at this point.  A good deal of vol. 2 is spent on Suntop sending out “The Call” to help unite all elves on the planet, yet you’ve also got Warlord Angrif Djun building his fleet to take them all out, Shenshen’s desire to utilize her midwife skills more, Rayek and his ongoing possession of Winnowill, Two-Edge going crazy again, and more than a half-dozen more subplots like these.  It’s that rare case when even though there’s a lot going on, the story doesn’t actually feel like it’s going anywhere.  Wendy Pini’s art looks better than ever after all these years, especially with Sonny Strait’s colors, and that makes all of this go down considerably smoother than it would otherwise.

I imagine my feelings reading this volume are akin to what lapsed fans of “X-Men” would feel if they tried jumping back into any of the comics currently being published.  Even so, amongst all of the plot threads being pursued in this volume, only one stands out as being somewhat misguided.  That would be the “major revelation” teased in the solicits for issue #12, the last one collected here.  It involves Wolfrider chief Cutter and part-time wolf/part-time High One Timmain and the newly-revealed connection they’ve shared since the beginning of the series.  Honestly, it feels really late in the game for Wendy and Richard Pini to be busting out a massive retcon like this, especially since it pretty much comes out of nowhere.  Cutter/Skywise shippers, however, may find that their prayers have been kinda, sorta, somewhat answered by it.  I can’t say that I’m put off by this development, and it may even wind up giving the series the focus it needs going forward.  “The Final Quest,” however, remains a series that is only for the “ElfQuest” faithful and no one else at this point.

The Fuse vol. 3: Perihelion

Well, the first two volumes had their endings derailed by the old “talking killer” trope.  Did writer Antony Johnston go for the hat trick with this third volume of his and artist Justin Greenwood’s sci-fi police series?  No he did not, and that just one reason why this is the best volume of “The Fuse” yet.  The title refers to the day of the year when the station’s orbit is the closest to the sun.  It’s also called the “Day of Chaos” by the cops because this is when crime is at an all-time high.  Some of the stuff is strictly small time:  fights, crowds getting unruly, diapers being stolen from different stores, indecent exposure, and the like.  However, there are several big-ticket items that our protagonists Klem and Ralph wind up lucking into.  There’s the mystery of the “haircut killer,” a mob boss who suffers a heart attack, a bomb threat called in during the mayor’s speech, a mass shooting at a hospital, and more on top of all this.

The previous volumes focused on one main story with a few subplots to pick up the slack and flesh out the world and its characters.  What Johnston does here is that approach dialed up all the way to eleven.  Granted, some of these stories do have the ring of the familiar to them and play out in fairly conventional ways.  Yet what makes the volume as a whole compulsively readable is that Johnston and Greenwood manage to juggle things in way that keeps all of these stories straight and constantly delivers key information regarding each of them.  So the pace remains relentless throughout and you feel the tension and eventual wind-down along with the characters throughout this “Day of Hell.”

Speaking of them, Klem and Ralph remain a likeable and engaging “odd couple” between their banter and complementary skill sets.  She’s the grizzled veteran who knows how things really work on the Fuse, he’s the skilled (and seasoned, at this point) newbie who can look at things from a different angle.  Ralph’s also keeping a secret from his partner that could ruin their relationship, which is touched upon at the very end of this volume as a tease for the next one.  I felt the wait for  this third volume, and it looks like it’ll be the same thing all over again for vol. 4.  May you live in interesting times indeed.

Deadpool: World’s Greatest vol. 1 — Millionaire With a Mouth

What the hell happened here!?

I’ve enjoyed the Brian Posehn/Gerry Duggan run of “Deadpool” for a while now and was looking forward to what the soft relaunch had to offer.  Yeah, Posehn was no longer going to be co-writing it, but his real job is as a stand-up comedian/actor.  Surely leaving the comic in the hands of professional writer Duggan wouldn’t change things that much, right?  Wrong.  As it turns out, the professional funny guy was responsible for most of the jokes and overall sense of humor in this series.  I imagined Posehn’s contributions to this series mainly consisted of phoning or texting in a joke here and there — because comics isn’t his main job — but if this volume is any indication then he was much more integral to the success of the previous run than I had thought.

The core concept behind “Millionaire With a Mouth” is solid enough:  Now that he’s a member of the (Uncanny) Avengers, Deadpool has achieved a level of fame and adoration with the general public that he never thought possible.  What’s the next step for a mercenary like him?  Establishing a franchise based on his services!  Whether it’s simple theft, a necessary bludgeoning, or emceeing a Bat Mitzvah, Deadpool and his Mercs For Money have got you covered.  It’s all going great, until certain important people wind up dead and the evidence all points to the Merc With a Mouth himself.

What follows is a surprisingly po-faced cautionary tale about the trappings of celebrity and what happens when people spend too much time in Deadpool’s head.  The comedy starts out light and never really picks up steam, leaving the fairly uninteresting drama to dominate the story.  Duggan is a decent enough plotter, but comedy isn’t his forte here.  Here, he shows himself to be a guy who thinks that repeating George Stephanopoulos’ last name over and over again actually counts as a joke.  Returning artist Mike Hawthorne is as good as he’s ever been, save for the fact that he’s having to prop up some very thin material here.  I’m honestly shocked by how flat the comedy falls here and the emo-ness displayed by the title character.  Even though there are some promising story threads teased here, like Deadpool’s showdown with Sabretooth, I’m not sure they’ll be worth reading after what I’ve just been subjected to.

The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1: Worldwide

Parker Industries has gone global!  What was once a struggling startup has now become the hottest new name in cutting-edge consumer technology.  After all these years Peter Parker has finally managed to not only have a new business venture that didn’t immediately blow up in his face, but become a worldwide success as well.  Also, a target for the international terrorist syndicate known as the Zodiac.  They’ve got their sights set on Parker Industries and all of Peter’s skills — and partnerships with Mockingbird, the Prowler, Nick Fury Jr., and most of S.H.I.E.L.D. — will be needed to stop them.  It’s a different kind of “Spider-Man” story, one that feels even a little more surreal than Dan Slott’s “Superior” run because this is actually Peter  being thrust into the kind of role that has been occupied by Tony Stark in the Marvel Universe.  What makes the difference here is that the title character’s selflessness still shines through in his CEO role, and the whole hard luck aspect of his character is still intact.  You wouldn’t catch Stark giving a major press conference with his fly down after all.

The action and overall style is still very much in the same vein as what Slott has been delivering with the character for several years now.  So even though the setup here is drastically different, chances are you’ll still enjoy it if you like what the writer has been doing with the character after all this time.  It’s also nice to see semi-regular artist Giuseppe Camuncoli finally topline the character’s latest relaunch and he brings effortless style and energy to the large-scale action in the main story.  There’s also plenty of hints and foreshadowing for future events and storylines crammed into this volume.  You get the inevitable return of Norman Osborne and the “Dead No More” event teased in the main story, while a character introduced in “Renew Your Vows” is primed to make their mark on the mainstream Marvel Universe.  As long as you’re not completely put off by Spidey’s new status quo, there is quite simply a ton of stuff to enjoy here.