Monthly Archives: June 2016

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation vol. 3

Oh man.  With one scene in this third volume, “Mushoku Tensei” effectively cements itself as something just for the fanboys.  It was my hope that the story would focus more on the redemptive aspects of Rudy Greyrat’s journey from reincarnated NEET to first-class wizard in this fantasy realm with the fanservicey bits firmly in the background where they belong.  That almost happens here, until one moment after a birthday celebration where things go right off the rails.

Rudy is his usual manipulative self during the celebration, to the point where he accidentally winds up endearing himself to the lady of the house.  So moved is she by his plight that the lady pledges her daughter, the tsundere Eris, to be his wife when she is of age.  Rudy doesn’t think much of this at first… until Eris shows up in his bedroom later that night.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that this celebration was for Rudy’s 10th birthday.  Eris is just as old.  Rudy, having the mind of a thirtysomething otaku, decides to push this as far as the girl is willing to go.  The good news is that Eris eventually beats his ass down for this, but not before things become irredeemably skeezy.  Seeing this kind of foreplay between pre-teens is bad.  That one of them knows exactly how bad this is and does it anyway is downright skin-crawling.

This is only a comic book, so it’s not like there are any real people being affected by Rudy’s actions here.  However, the idea that his actions here are okay on some level and even rewarded — after the beating, Eris tells Rudy to hold off for another five years until they become adults — really casts a shadow over any (admittedly modest) enjoyment I’d expect to get from this series.  “Mushoku Tensei” has a core idea of redemption that I like and at this point it has basically been overwhelmed by the pandering it offers to the basest desires of fandom.

Marvel Previews Picks: September 2016

Everyone, I want to say that I’m very disappointed in you.

I know I’m a little behind the curve on this, but the outrage that you have shown in reaction to the surprise twist at the end of the first issue of  “Captain America:  Steve Rogers” suggests that none of you have been reading comics for very long.  We all know that’s not true, and you should have started trying to figure out what the real story going on here is.  The idea that Captain America has been a deep cover operative for Hydra after all these years is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Marvel tried the same thing several years back with Jonathan Hickman’s “Secret Warriors” series where it started off with the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated and puppeted by Hydra for the past few decades.  I almost got whiplash from that twist, but it turned out not to be the case.  Being the spy supreme that he was, Nick Fury was shown to have pulled a fast one on Von Strucker and his Hydra cabal and run them even before they infiltrated his organization.

That’s the kind of endgame that’s likely to happen with this “Captain Hydra” business and you should’ve known it!  Dramatic changes to characters like this never stick and rarely work well unless they’re part of a larger story.  See also:  “Superior Spider-Man.”  Nick Spencer, the man behind this twist, is a smart writer and I’m fairly certain he has a plan here,  The fact that recent stories involving Steve Rogers, such as “Standoff,” have involved Cosmic Cubes suggests that Cap’s newfound history with Hydra was the result of reality being re-written.  So either the good guys will find a way to write it back the right way, or we’ll get a SURPRISE DOUBLE-TWIST where Rogers was revealed to have been working for the good guys while working for Hydra.  Neither prospect sounds particularly exciting at this point, but maybe Spencer has some better ideas up his sleeve.

Still, the amount of outrage this twist has provoked is mystifying from my end.  All of you fans out there should know better than to take things like this in a Marvel comic at face value by now.

Amazing Spider-Man #18:  Speaking of “Superior,” you know that Doc Ock’s mind has been stuck in the body of Peter Parker’s robot assistant ever since the end of that series?  That was one of the revelations in the first volume of Dan Slott’s current run on this series, and now the villain is about to make his move.  All on the eve of the next big Spider-event, “Dead No More.”  Which has recently gained a subtitle:  “The Clone Conspiracy.”  That does take a bit of the drama away, but seeing as how we already knew the Jackal was involved, and how clones represented the most logical explanation as to how all these dead people have come back to life, I’m not too bothered by it.  Besides, if Slott wants to try and get a worthwhile story out of one of the most infamous plot devices in Spider-history he’s more than welcome to try.  His track record with the character should speak for itself at this point, and I’ll be there for the collected edition of the event next year.

Oh, and I had to go through most of the single issue solicitations to finally find something to write up here.  The “Civil War II” tie-ins keep piling up even in the month before the end of the event.  We can also expect a rash of “Civil War II” fallout books in the November solicitations as Marvel tries to keep the (sales) party going as long as they can.

Gwenpool #6:  In which it is promised that this is not a “Civil War II” tie-in.  Well, I guess if there’s one character who doesn’t need to rely on the sales boost from such an event, it’s an amalgamation of Deadpool and Gwen Stacy.  I mean, even “Deadpool’s” ongoing series is tying into the event.  Gwenpool, however, is already over it.

Wolverine:  Origin — The Complete Collection HC:  Both miniseries in one hardcover collection.  Certainly a better value than what I paid for them originally.  If you like the character, then they’re certainly worth your time.  However, there’s no indication as to whether or not the extras from the first “Origin” series will be included here.  There were lots of pages detailing the back and forth between Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas, and Paul Jenkins on how the story should go which made for some very interesting reading.  These are exactly the kind of extras I like to see in my collected editions.  If they’re not there, then just remember that these are still good stories.  I’ll just be sticking with the editions I already have on my shelf.

Deadpool:  Beginnings Omnibus:  Because “Deadpool” collections sell like hotcakes and Marvel is determined to wring every last dollar from the character’s fanbase.  This collects all of the character’s appearances prior to his ongoing title (though I think there’s some fuzziness on the dates there) resulting in a 28-issue 768-page omnibus for $100.  If reading through all of those issues, most of which hail from the late 90’s, sounds like your idea of a good time then you’re welcome to it.

X-Men:  Apocalypse Wars HC:  The collected edition of the latest “X-Men” event.  Which I will not be buying.  See, “Apocalypse Wars” was a thematic crossover with “All-New X-Men,” “Extraordinary X-Men,” and “Uncanny X-Men” as these titles gave us stories with each of the teams interacting with the past, present, and future of Apocalypse.  All of these stories were specific to their titles, so is there any advantage in picking up this hardcover versus the individual collections from each of these titles?  Though doing it this way might be a little cheaper, you’d be missing out on extra issues from these titles.  Issues #8-12 of “Extraordinary X-Men” are collected here, but vol. 2 (which is also solicited here) packs in #’s 6-7 as well.  This hardcover collection might seem like a good idea in theory, but it just doesn’t pan out in actuality.

Doctor Strange:  The Fate of Dreams (Prose Novel) HC, Doctor Strange Epic Collection:  A Separate Reality, Doctor Strange:  A Flight of Bones, Color Your Own Doctor Strange:  In case you haven’t heard, there’s a “Doctor Strange” movie coming out in November.  With it comes the usual drive to get out all sorts of material so that people who saw the movie will have plenty to choose from if they want to read more about the character.  Also worth noting is that the second volume of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s ongoing “Doctor Strange” series is solicited here as well.  It’s in hardcover, but it’s the only “Doctor Strange” collection mentioned here that I’ll be getting around to picking up at some point in the future.

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection:  Legacy vol. 1:  Collecting the first twenty issues of John Ostrander and Jan Duursema’s great series about Luke Skywalker’s ne’er do well grandson Cade.  Yeah, it’s been kicked out of continuity by the Disney acquisition and “The Force Awakens.”  These stories still represent some of the best “Star Wars” work from the creators and from the time the license belonged to Dark Horse.  It’s good to see that they’re being brought back into print by Marvel.

Vote Loki:  And the collected edition is out just in time for the election.  My only fear is that even with “Doctor McNinja’s” Chris Hastings writing this, it won’t be more ridiculous than the election season we’ve had so far.

DC Previews Picks: September 2016

It looks like most of the “Rebirth” launches have gone down all right.  I’ve been reading some good reviews for most of them and there don’t appear to be any obvious misfires in the bunch.  More mixed appears to be the company’s Hanna-Barbara relaunch.  “Scooby Apocalypse” and “Wacky Raceland” appear to not be quite what everyone wanted, while “Future Quest” is making good on the promise of its setup.  In other news, “Watchmen” colorist John Higgins has called DC’s decision to integrate characters from the series “One of the biggest mistakes they could make.”  I’m with you on that one, John.

Oh, and it was announced earlier this week that Rafael Albuquerque will be doing the art for the new “Hit-Girl” series from Mark Millar.  Between the artist’s work on “Batgirl” and now this, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the “Third Cycle” of “American Vampire” anytime this year, or even in the next.  Though, the second “American Vampire Anthology” has been re-solicited here, so fans of the series at least have that to look forward to!

Doom Patrol #1:  The first title from the Gerard Way-driven “Young Animal” imprint gets top billing this month.  After reading his two “Umbrella Academy” miniseries, I think that he’s got the knack for “strange” that has driven previous incarnations of this title in the past.  As for what this series will actually be about:  The implication from the solicitation text is that it’s going to focus on Casey Brinke, a young EMT who answers a hit-and-run call and finds herself face-to-face with one of the Patrol’s most recognizable members, Robotman.  Things are promised to get crazier from there.  Also, there’s a cat named Lotion in here as well.  In case knowing that makes you more inclined to give this series a shot.

Cyborg:  Rebirth #1:  Kind of interesting that they’re doing a “Rebirth” issue for a series that had only been ongoing for a year before the relaunch.  Then again, this might not be a bad thing considering that this title’s run could be best described as “troubled.”  Initially a high-profile launch featuring an African-American protagonist (and retconned original member of the Justice League), it featured art from Ivan Reis, and was written by David Walker hot off the success of his “Shaft” miniseries.  Then Reis left the series partway through the first arc, and Walker left at issue nine amidst frustration that he wasn’t able to do all he wanted with the character.  “Cyborg” co-creator Marv Wolfman took over writing duties for the final three issues.  Now we’ve got new writer John Semper Jr. (unknown to me) taking over and giving us a story that draws from Alan Moore’s classic “Swamp Thing” revamp:  Is the title character a man, or just a machine that thinks he is one.  That’s not something which sets my imagination on fire, but at least it’s a starting point for the series and character to get back on track.

Trinity #1:  We’ve had “Batman/Superman” and “Superman/Wonder Woman” series for the past few years and now DC has figured that it’s better to just put these characters together in one ongoing series and be done with it.  It’s not the first time this has happened:  Matt Wagner did a great “Trinity” miniseries around a decade back, and the last “weekly” miniseries DC did after “52” and “Countdown” was also centered around these three heroes.  This time out, writer/artist Francis Manapul has the characters looking back to their origins and facing a new threat in the process.  Not the most inspiring of setups, but Manapul earned a reputation on the New 52 incarnation of “The Flash” for having some of the most inspired art in the company’s line.  Even if the story doesn’t thrill, maybe it’ll be worth picking up for the art?

Batman #7, Nightwing #5, and Detective Comics #941:  The first major Bat-crossover of the “Rebirth” era kicks off in these three titles.  “Night of the Monster Men” sounds like a big kaiju battle throughout the streets of Gotham, and that’s good enough for me.  Yes, it’s not the kind of thing you expect to see the Bat-family face off against.  That’s a plus in my book and I’m expecting to see some real creativity in how these monsters are taken down.  What’s most interesting about this crossover is that all of these issues are co-written by the apparent mastermind of the event:  Steve Orlando.  That’s something I’ve never seen in any crossover event, and I’m guessing that the division of labor in this case has Orlando making sure the uber-plot runs smoothly through these titles while the regular writers handle the monster-of-the-issue business.

Gotham Academy:  Second Semester #1:  Back because DC believes in it and wants to see this series get the audience it feels it deserves.  Me?  I’m just hoping that vol. 3 recaptures the sense of fun from the first volume and delivers a more coherent storyline.  The series now has three writers as original artist Karl Kerschl joins Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan.  I can’t remember the last time an ongoing monthly title had that many writers working on it, so I hope DC knows what it’s doing here.

Batman by Ed Brubaker vol. 2:  Now that my expectations for the writer’s run on the character have been adjusted accordingly, will I enjoy this volume more than the first?  Well, it does have Bruce Wayne being indicted for murder, sent to Blackgate, and then escaping, so that sounds promising.  Except that these issues were likely part of the “Bruce Wayne:  Murderer/Fugitive” crossover events so it’s kind of questionable how they’ll read in isolation.  Not promising.

Everafter:  From the Pages of Fables #1:  Because you can’t keep a good franchise down.  Also, Vertigo needs a successful ongoing series to justify its continued existence.  The premise here is that after the mundane world became a magical one at the end of “Fables” it became necessary to make sure that magic was being used properly and for the benefit of all.  Enter The Shadow Players, a mundy/Fable global coalition to safeguard against things like magical terrorism..  It’s a clever setup and it comes from Matthew Sturges, who has a long history of collaboration with “Fables” creator Bill Willingham on titles like “Jack of Fables,” and Dave Justus, who co-wrote the adaptation of “The Wolf Among Us” with Sturges.  “Fables” ended well, but it hasn’t been gone long enough for me to miss it.  I’ll probably pick up the first volume anyway just to see if Sturges and Justus can capture some of the magic which made that series great.

Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days:  Now in softcover.  So if you thought the hardcover edition of this collection of hard-to-find stories from the writer was too expensive (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), then now you have no excuse to not pick this up.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: September 2016

Not much to say about the company this month.  There was the press release about the true crime graphic novel they published a few years back, “Green River Killer,” that went out today.  Turns out that the graphic novel, written by Jeff Jensen with art from Jonathan Case, is going to be made into a movie with actor Michael Sheen (the “Underworld” and “Twilight” films, along with much better stuff like “Frost/Nixon” and the Showtime series “Masters of Sex”) making his directorial debut and taking the role of the title killer.  It was a good read, and hopefully it’ll make for an equally good movie.  What’s most notable about it is that it’s probably the most highbrow film project Dark Horse has been involved in.  That’s not to say I didn’t like “300” or the “Hellboy” movies, but this is an encouraging sign that the company is trying to broaden its resume beyond quality genre work.  Diversity is one of the keys to longevity in the film business after all.

Aleister & Adolf HC:  From writer Douglas Rushkoff and artist Michael Avon Oeming comes this story about the infamous magus who has developed a powerful new weapon in the fight against the Axis Powers.  What it is and what the connection to Der Fuhrer is are things you’re apparently going to have to read this graphic novel to find out.  Rushkoff is better known as a media theorist than a comics writer, having done a few graphic novels and one short-lived ongoing series through Vertigo (“Testament”) that didn’t really cause much of a ripple.  This time he’s dealing with an intriguing-sounding premise and an accomplished artist, so maybe he’ll turn a few more heads in comics this time out.

The Art of Battlefield One HC & The Art of Metal Gear Solid HC:  More evidence that videogame artbooks are becoming a larger part of the publisher’s bread and butter.  The latter is about the latest in EA’s “Battlefield” series which, in a move that surprised many, is taking place in WWI.  Now you’ll be able to experience trench warfare and witness the last days of mounted cavalry in modern warfare.  I like the idea behind this, but this series (and its rival, “Call of Duty”) is all about the multiplayer aspect as the campaign is something that an experienced player can finish off in a day.  Or an afternoon if they’re dedicated enough.  “MGSV,” on the other hand, was one of the best games of last year and a return to form for the series after the wretchedly overwrought and self-indulgent storytelling of the previous game.  I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the artbook (flip a coin here…) but Dark Horse apparently feels confident enough in its prospects to offer a limited edition.  For $100, you can get this book in a tactical slipcase with a fine art print by Ashley Wood — who not only did the art for the comic adaptations of the first two “Metal Gear Solid” games, but also defined the in-game look of “Portable Ops” and “Peace Walker.”

The Complete Elfquest vol. 3:  Just letting you know, this has apparently been pushed back to November.  Be sure to pick this up when it comes out so we don’t have to wait over a year and a half for the next one.

Creatures of the Night:  Another old hardcover adaptation of short stories written by Neil Gaiman gets a new edition.  This was the first time Michael Zulli did such a service for the publisher, and the results were quite good.  Uh… at least one of them was.  See, I can only remember the first story in this collection because it involved a cat taking on the ultimate evil to protect her owner.  As a cat lover, I found that story to be immensely endearing.  There was another one in the collection as well, but time has stricken all memory of it from me.  It may be good, or just dull.  Not bad, though.  A bad story by Gaiman would’ve stood out in my memory because there are so few.  I’m looking in your direction, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”

Megatokyo Omnibus 02:  What I’ve read of this series back in the day left me believing that the only reason it was popular was because of co-creator Fred Gallagher’s art.  Take that away and you’re left with warmed-over gamer humor and visual novel tropes that tend to be best appreciated by weeaboos.  The reason I’m mentioning it here is because this is the first time the stories in this omnibus will have been published by Dark Horse.  You see, the company published the first three volumes before Gallagher jumped ship to DC’s CMX imprint.  Nothing has been heard from this series in print since CMX died an ignoble death after DC was fully assimilated into Warner Bros. several years back.  Now the CMX volumes are being re-published by Dark Horse in this omnibus format.  The story I’d like to know is how Gallagher came back to work with the publisher to make this happen.  Maybe Gabe and Tycho at “Penny Arcade” will be able to follow the same path now that Oni has given up on publishing new collections of that series.

Ranx HC:  From the solicitation text, “Ranx is a sci-fi antihero made of photocopier parts and ultraviolence. In a futuristic dystopia, he protects his girlfriend Lubna from vicious drug dealers on a brutal path of sex, carnage, and destruction.”  Sounds alright by me!  This was originally published in “Heavy Metal” during the 80’s so that should give you an idea of how over-the-top this should be.  I’ve never read it, but its reputation has preceded it.  Hopefully all that word of mouth over the decades will be justified after I read through this new edition.

Rise of the Black Flame #1 (of 5):  “Hellboy” may have reached its end and “B.P.R.D.” is in the process of wrapping up, but the Mignolaverse marches on.  That said, I can think of other characters in it (Howards, Daimo, Fenix, Iosif…) that deserve the miniseries treatment more than this guy.  Despite being hyped as the big bad in several major arcs of this series, I’ve never felt that the Black Flame has been properly developed as a character.  He’s just big monster that needs to be punched out at the end of the story in order for the good guys to win.  Maybe Mignola, with co-writer Chris Roberson, will finally be able to add some much-needed dimension to this character and make him retroactively interesting.

Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes #1 (of 5):  Written by Tim Seeley and David Walker.  My first thought on seeing this solicitation was, “What are the writers of ‘Revival’ and ‘Shaft’ doing on something like this?”  Then I read through the whole thing, and I couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t thought to do this story sooner.  Imagine a world where Tarzan and future ape leader Caesar were raised as brothers… until slave traders tore them apart and they eventually find each other again on opposite sides of the war between ape and man!  How did no one think to do this story sooner?  I didn’t think I needed to read a “Tarzan”/”Planet of the Apes” crossover comic, but I thought wrong.

No Mercy vol. 2

Writer Alex De Campi and artist Carla Speed McNeil struck a near-perfect balance of awfulness and excitement in the first volume of this series.  There was always the chance that something could go wrong and that balance would be upset, but vol. 2 shows that these creators really know what they’re doing with this story of privileged American teens stuck in the (totally not a stand-in for Mexico) country of Mataguey.  Things start off with the creators showing that they know how to subvert your expectations as the majority of the surviving teens’ encounter with the drug traffickers goes in an unexpected direction.  This leads to some of our cast making it to the U.S. Embassy, others who wind up captured by the revolutionary army, and still more who go on to become captive of the traffickers, hook up with some drug-seeking British tourists, and get an eye plucked out by a bird of prey.  All of what these kids are forced to endure should’ve made for a thoroughly depressing read except that the energy and over-the-top tone let you know that things shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously here.  As a result, the rush to see how much worse things can get for our cast becomes thrilling rather than wearying.

Oh, and there’s also some delicious schadenfreude involving Charlene’s evil brother Chad.  That guy deserved everything that happened to him in this volume, and more.  Too bad that story thread has been closed off.  Or has it?  I didn’t see his body after all…

All of what I said applies to the first four issues in this new collection.  The fifth, a spotlight on Charlene and how her gender identity issues were “treated” at a teen residential treatment center, is an entirely different beast.  It still maintains the dramatic flair of what has come before, except that it’s pitched at a more grounded level as we see the horrific treatment that Charlene and other “problem” teen girls are subjected to.  This makes for a compelling read with the potential to ruin your day as you hope that De Campi was sensationalizing the events here and that real thing isn’t nearly as bad.  It’s a vain hope, I’m willing to bet.  As good as this issue is, it’s also at odds with the other ones collected in this volume.  If “No Mercy” was as popular as it deserved to be, this issue should’ve been spun off into its own miniseries where the creators could explore this subject at length, away from the enjoyably demented B-movie thrills this series traffics in.

The Summit of the Gods vol. 5

This took over a year longer to arrive than I expected, but it doesn’t matter!  The final volume of this series has made it to print after the long delay had me fearing that we’d never find out how this series ends.  It picks up shortly after the bit of (what I found to be) unintentional humor that wrapped up the previous volume as mountaineers Habu and Fukumachi go their respective ways.  The former on a treacherous climb up Everest via a route no one has tackled before, and the latter back down to base camp.  Even though Fukumachi makes it back down alive — and to a certain amount of fame thanks to the international furor surrounding Habu’s exploits — his encounter with the man has stirred a passion in him that won’t be calmed until he tackles the tallest mountain in the world himself.

Fukumachi may have started off this series as little more than a glorified point-of-view character for the audience, yet he’s finally able to transcend that in this final volume.  Yes, he does spend a good portion of the first third of the volume doing just that as he photographs Habu’s climb up Everest.  The thing is that his pursuit of the reclusive mountaineer has also spurred Fukumachi on to physical accomplishments that he would never have thought himself capable of when this story began.  He’s also rewarded for his efforts with a killer story.

That’s not enough as he feels compelled to do an oxygenless climb of Everest to properly honor Habu’s and the impact the man has had on his life.  Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Fukumachi is also rewarded for his efforts here with the resolution of a couple lingering mysteries.  It’s explicitly stated at a couple points in this volume (and again on the back cover) that unmitigated belief in what you’re doing will see you through the toughest challenges in your life.  That’s what I think writer Yumemakura Baku wants the reader to take away from this series.  It’s a familiar sentiment, which is why I find it easier to appreciate the risk/reward message from Fukumachi’s efforts.  Transcend your limits, and you will be rewarded.  Maybe not with fame and the answer to a nearly hundred-year-old mystery, but your efforts will not have been in vain.

As for Habu, his fate feels entirely appropriate here.  Having the character succeed in his climb and make it back down the mountain for professional validation and worldwide fame was never going to happen.  This isn’t that kind of story.  Plus, everything we’ve seen of the character before now suggests that these things would’ve only made him more miserable.  Baku shoots to give the character nothing more than personal validation for his efforts.  Habu knows what he has accomplished and, in the end, no one is able to take that away from him.  For a character as ill-tempered and idiosyncratic as this one, and who has followed such an unconventional path to get to this point, what he ends up with and where are true to his person.

This being the last volume of the series, I’d be remiss to not talk about Jiro Taniguchi’s astonishing art one last time.  No one captures the beauty and harshness of the outdoors as well as this artist.  While Haubu and Fukumachi are up on Everest, you see the oppressive effects of the environment on their characters, both physically and mentally.  From the frostbite on their faces to the bone-weariness in their actions after a certain point, these details help draw you in.  There’s also a real sense of danger that accompanies the climbers on their journeys as the bad weather, falling rocks, and treacherous environment are all rendered with impeccable skill.  The visuals are so breathtaking here that you’re left hoping Taniguchi attempts a solo climb with his own Everest-related manga at some point.

That’s because the flaws that have been a part of this series since the beginning are still present here to a certain extent.  As good as Taniguchi’s art is, Baku still feels the need to over-narrate everything.  By the time this volume is over, you will know how Fukumachi felt at any given moment during the course of its events.  I’ll admit that sometimes the writer’s quirk is useful in supplying necessary background material to help appreciate the climbing and in providing the occasional moment of grace.  Yet you’re left wishing that he had dialed things back a bit and not felt utterly compelled to spell out everything on the minds of his protagonists in text.  Of course, if you’ve read this far in the series then there’s also a pretty good chance that you’ve acclimated to this particular quirk of Baku’s by now.

There are a also a couple instances where the writer falls back on cheap drama — ghostly hallucinations, lost food — to generate tension.  It’s disappointing because the series has shown that it’s better than that.  Also, while the esoteric nature of Habu’s fate works, I would’ve appreciated something more concrete with Fukumachi in the final chapter.  The broad strokes of the conclusion of his journey are clear, even though he’s pushed aside to make room for some people who haven’t had a physical presence in the story until now.

Maybe not the mountain climbing manga to end all others (it’s one genre that Shonen Jump has yet to try [to my knowledge, anyway]), this has still been an engrossing read from start to finish.  Much like its uncompromising protagonist Habu, “The Summit of the Gods” is also a series that offers no real concessions to the popular traits of mainstream manga.  There are no energetic teen protagonists, cute girls, idols, superpowers, or epic fight scenes.  It’s all about rugged, even damaged middle-aged men pitting themselves against the environment to see what they’re made of.  That has probably doomed this series to obscurity in the U.S.  However, if you’re willing to buckle down and engage with it on its own terms, like Fukumachi did with Habu, then I think you’ll find the entertainment this series provides to be a suitable reward.

Extraordinary X-Men vol. 1: X-Haven

Jeff Lemire takes on the “X-Men” and Bendis’ run isn’t even in the ground or cold yet over here.  (But that’s coming, sooner that I was expecting.)  The bad news is that due to Marvel’s decision to give additional prominence to the Inhumans — and get their own “X-Men”-esque film/TV franchise that they can have all to themselves — we’re stuck with another riff on the “No More Mutants” story that was set up after “House of M.”  In this case, the Terrigen Mists that were dispersed during “Infinity” are now revealed to be poisonous to and have sterilized mutants.  This has led to Storm re-locating the school and all the mutants she and her team can find to someplace… warmer while they figure out what to do next.  However, at least one individual has taken a proactive stance in dealing with this crisis.  Unfortunately for everyone, that person is Mister Sinister and he just got his hands on Nightcrawler.

As familiar as parts of this storyline are, Lemire’s take on this iteration of the “X-Men” could also be described as traditional.  That’s actually not a bad thing in this case as Bendis’ run has come off as somewhat aimless and lacking in cohesion.  So the decision to get back to focusing on a specific team of mutants fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them (more than ever, of course) actually comes off as a welcome nostalgia trip for this longtime fan.  It helps that the writer has a good handle on these character.  In particular:  Storm makes for a satisfyingly authoritative team leader, there’s some good interplay between Young Jean Grey and Old Man Logan as they overcome their mutual reluctance to join the team, and it’s nice seeing Colossus in a straightforwardly heroic mindset again after all these years.  Granted, Nightcrawler appears to have fallen into a manically religious fugue state and Lemire has ditched Kieron Gillen’s revamp of Sinister, so there’s some irritation here.  We also the always-energetic art of Humberto Ramos driving the action here and that helps make this volume a visual standout as well.  Vol. 1 of “Extraordinary X-Men” is all about embracing the familiar, but in this case it’s the warm, welcoming kind that reminds you why you liked these characters and their world in the first place.

A Digital Doubleheader From Bendis

Comics in digital format are making up an increasingly large part of what I read.  While having a physical edition of what I’m reading is great, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to buy a comic in that format for two reasons.  One is that they’re on sale, and the other is that they retail for a far more appealing price than what I would pay for them in print.  That’s the case with the new “Invincible Iron Man” series and the latest volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”  Both are from Bendis and continue the trend of the writer’s comics at Marvel being published in an expensive hardcover format before coming to paperback after six months or so.  Normally I’d wait for the paperback edition, but both of these volumes were retailing from comiXology/Amazon digitally for less than what I’d pay for these volumes down the line.  Which is a good thing too.  I’d probably be feeling much less charitable towards these titles if I had to pay more for them.

Bendis’ new “Iron Man”title was positioned as the flagship for Marvel’s “All-New All-Different” line post-”Secret Wars.”  So you’d expect that “Invincible Iron Man vol. 1:  Reboot” would carry a certain amount of weight in that regard.  You’d also be wrong.  The most meaningful thing this volume contributes to the current incarnation of the Marvel Universe is what it does with Doctor Doom and his newly-reconstructed face.  No longer the ruler of Latveria, the good doctor has realized with this change that he was meant for greater things.  This includes becoming best bros with Tony Stark whether the superhero futurist wants it or not.

That’s only a subplot to the main story as Stark is forced to contend with his old flame/enemy Madam Masque and her efforts to secure items of considerable mystic power for her own ends.  While he’s pursuing her, our protagonist also finds the time to banter with his A.I. gal Friday, strike up a romance with brilliant scientist Dr. Amara Perera, hang out with his awesome facial hair bro Doctor Strange, fight some cyber-ninjas, and offer Mary Jane Watson a job at Stark Industries.  It all makes for a fairly engaging read from the writer as well as a more focused one since he’s just dealing with one main character and his supporting cast.  Bendis also has a good handle on Tony’s character, making his arrogance come off as charming rather than off-putting and even have him display some vulnerability at key points.

The writer’s take on Doom isn’t as successful even if there are some interesting aspects to it.  There is a certain kind of blandness to the character’s new look, with him coming off as generically handsome more than anything else.  However, Doom’s sense of superiority remains intact and makes for good fun as we see him forcefully ingratiate himself into Stark’s life.  I’m not sure if Bendis is going to go anywhere interesting with Doom’s statement that he’s meant for better things, but it’s a completely believable turn for the character to put on airs like that after he’s lost his monarchy.

With regards to the women, they come off fine.  More or less.  Friday makes for a good foil for Stark’s character as she’s able to rein him in and get the man to focus in a way that only her inspiration (Pepper) was able to do in real life.  I do recall some concern that the addition of Mary Jane to this series would eventually lead her to become another notch on Stark’s bedpost, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here.  Aside from becoming an employee at Stark Industries, her actions ultimately save Stark and Doom from certain annihilation at Madame Masque’s hands.  Masque, by the way, makes for a pretty generic villain here even with the demonic possession angle.  I liked her ruthlessness when dealing with humans, but the woman’s motives and goals aren’t defined well enough to make her interesting here.  More likely to wind up as a notch on Stark’s bedpost is Dr. Perara.  At least I get the impression that she’s going to make the man work for it and get there on her terms based on what I’ve read here.

Bendis’ collaborator on “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,”  David Marquez, provides the art for these five issues.  As his work on that series showed, he’s great with character drama and superhero action and that hasn’t changed here.  In fact, these five issues show a level of detail above what he was doing there, making the proceedings even more pleasing to the eye.  The only real negative I can think of is that there are some visual tricks that come off somewhat pointlessly — like imposing a 24-panel grid on a double-page spread that doesn’t need it — but these five issues show that Marquez is a first-class superhero artist.  If nothing else, “Civil War II” is going to look great.

These five issues are good fun and actually have me looking forward to seeing where Bendis goes with the title character’s adventures.  That said, if you were expecting more than just an enjoyable superhero story based on the push that Marvel gave this book then I can understand why you’d be disappointed. The stakes and scope of this volume are relatively small scale and while that’s not a bad thing on its terms, you expect more from a title that’s pushed as the flagship of its line.  I’d also say the events here are slight for a $25 hardcover.  For a $12 digital purchase, they feel just about right.

“Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1:  Emperor Quill” was even cheaper at $10 digitally.  Which is good because it left me rolling my eyes at the way Bendis disposes of the promising status quo that he left Peter Quill in at the end of the previous volume.  To recap:  Quill is now the (elected) Emperor of Spartax and living a respectable life.  His fiancee, Kitty Pryde, and the rest of the Guardians decided that this life wasn’t for them and continue to seek out high adventure in the galaxy.  (Ben Grimm is also part of the team now.  Why?  “Because reasons.”  His salt-of-the-earth persona at least makes for an entertaining mix with the other Guardians, so that’s all the complaining I’ll do about this addition.)  After an explosive encounter with the Chitari, the Guardians come across something in a box and decide to exploit their connection with Quill to get the Spartax to open it up and find out what’s inside.  Their reunion with the former Star Lord is cut short as Hala, Last Accuser of the Kree, shows up on the planet to avenge the destruction of her home as a result of the machinations of Quill’s father in the “Black Vortex” crossover.

Lots of fighting and banter follow.  Compared to “Invincible Iron Man,” it doesn’t make for the best use of Bendis’ skills with all of the characters mostly reduced to shouting quips at one another over the carnage.  I will readily admit that all of this carnage looks great under Valerio Schiti’s pencils as his style has an energy and detail to it that’s immensely appealing.  That’s ultimately not enough to counter the fact that setting up Quill as the Emperor of Spartax turned out to be a complete non-starter as a story.  By the end of the volume, he’s a member of the Guardians again and leaving behind a ruined Spartax as he has been made a scapegoat for Hala’s attack.  That’s not only predictable, but not that satisfying either.

I’d rather have seen Quill be an irritating thorn in the side of the politicians who set him up for the role and loved by his people in the process.  Then, when Hala attacks, his and the Guardians’ efforts to defeat her are applauded by the people as they realize that the reason this happened in the first place was because of Quill’s dad.  Stuck with a popular ruler who they can’t stand, the politicians then suggest Quill team up with his former companions on a goodwill tour to make up for all of his dad’s other transgressions.  Tired of being stuck on the planet, Quill agrees and the status quo of the series is restored.

That’s the story I’d have liked to read, and the fact that the story Bendis wrote inspired me to think it up should tell you what I thought of the one he gave us.  At least it had some great art, and was cheap.  I’m not sure if that combination will be enough to get me to come back for future volumes.

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol. 1 — Not My Captain America

Nick Spencer’s other “Captain America” title may be the one grabbing all of the headlines, but it’ll be a while until it gets its first collected edition.  What?  You were expecting something snappier as I transition into talking about Sam Wilson’s adventures as Cap?  Well, that’s kind of a problem with this volume even though Spencer has a lot of good ideas about what the title character should be fighting against in this day and age.  That’s because while Sam has been doing all of the things expected of him in this role — joining the Avengers, fighting supervillains, standing in parades — he also sees this as his chance to affect real social change.  Spencer obliges him by setting Sam up against one of Marvel’s reliably racist supervillain groups, the Sons of the Serpent.  This time around they’ve diversified into villainous schemes both low, kidnapping people trying to cross the border into America and experimenting on them, and high, offering their Trump-esque public-relations services to big companies.

You’ve got a hero who is all ready to fight the good fight and some bad guys who are cannily of-the-moment in their villainy.  Toss in some art from the always great Daniel Acuna (and some nice but not quite as great work from Paul Renaud and Joe Bennett in the back half), as well as the return of CapWolf and I should’ve found this to be a must-read.  As it is, this volume is just okay.  There’s no doubt that Spencer’s heart is clearly in the right place as he’s writing this.  It’s just that all of these elements play out in a fairly predictable fashion.  Of course Sam’s efforts to do the right thing would misfire in the public eye, save for the handful of people who show up to tell him how much they appreciate what he’s doing — that’s how this kind of plot always plays out.  While the Serpent Solutions stuff is clever, their kind of villainy is also familiar and notable only for the amusement to be had by seeing their blandly corporate talking points being espoused by people in snake costumes.  The only welcome surprise to this volume is seeing how well Misty Knight works with Sam both as support and as a straight woman to his actions.  It’s not that this new direction Spencer has picked out for Sam is a bad one, there’s just nothing in it to be had beyond meeting your basic expectations for the kind of story it’s telling.