Monthly Archives: July 2016

Marvel Previews Picks: October 2016

Yeah, there were lots of interesting comics titles announced in the run-up to Comic-Con from Marvel.  I liked the fact that Al Ewing’s “Avengers” titles will be continuing on in “U.S.Avengers” and “Ultimates [Squared].”  The idea of the new “Champions” series being made up of teen superheroes opposed to the events of “Civil War II” sounds nice, even if Mark Waid strikes me as being just a little too old to write about characters so young (give it to Noelle Stevenson, is what I’d like to shout though my rational mind says that Waid will still deliver a solid read regardless) and I’m sad to see Humberto Ramos off “Extraordinary X-Men” to write this title.  No America Chavez title either, but I’ll let everyone else be annoyed about that for me.

Most of the movie and TV news coming out of the con was to my liking as well.  Casting Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” sounds downright crazy, until you hear director James Gunn explain his reasoning.  Joss Whedon said that he’d come back into the Marvel fold to direct a “Black Widow” solo movie, which I’d love to see.  I just watched the new “Doctor Strange” trailer and saw Chiwetel Ejiofor become my hero for the “wi-fi password” business at the end of it.  Oh, and the “Legion” trailer for the series on FX next year looks pretty slick.  If it hews closest to Si Spurrier’s take on the character, then it might wind up becoming a must-see in my book.

Champions #1:  Six young heroes — Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Nova, Young Cyclops, Viv Vision, and the Totally Awesome Hulk — team up to change the world.  Or, at least as much as being superheroes in the Marvel will allow.  I’m sure they’ll talk a good deal only to be confronted with the fact that the SYSTEM CAN’T BE CHANGED!  At least their efforts are likely to read well and look good thanks to Waid and Ramos’ involvement here.

The Clone Conspiracy #1 (of 5):  Dan Slott’s latest Spider-event kicks off with the hook that Spidey’s longtime clone-focused nemesis The Jackal has found the key to eternal life thanks to his technology.  Should our hero stand in his way if that’s the case?  Of course he should!  Any longtime reader will know that The Jackal’s tech is OBVIOUSLY based on some evil method that makes it untenable in addition to morally wrong.  The real question here is that with Jim Cheung being the artist for this event series, will it be able to come out on a monthly basis, or will this five-issue miniseries wind up lasting six or seven months?  My money’s on six.

Prowler #1:  Yeah, I liked his role in the first volume of Slott’s latest “Amazing Spider-Man” series.  Do I want to read an ongoing series about this villain turned do-gooder?  Not really.  I mean, he works better in his supporting role as the Spider-Man who shows up to prove that Peter Parker isn’t.  I give it a year, maybe a year and a half if Marvel is feeling generous, or it ties into another event for a sales boost.

Infamous Iron Man #1:  From Bendis and Maleev, which I guess makes “International Iron Man” a miniseries?  Anyhow, Doctor Doom is now Iron Man.  As is Riri Williams in the “Invincible Iron Man” series, also from Bendis.  I smell a throwdown coming.  That’s probably where this series is leading as the stated premise in the solicitation text that Doom is prepared to succeed as Iron Man where Tony Stark failed doesn’t really give us a whole lot to go on.  If it means we’re getting a more dickish and arrogant take on the hero… then I guess it’s a good thing that the bar for such things was set so low with “Superior Iron Man.”

Jessica Jones #1:  Back to cash in on the success of her Netflix series a year after it premiered!  Alright, that’s pretty harsh.  “Alias” stands as one of the best things Bendis has written in the Marvel Universe and the fact that we’re getting more of it (with a name change) is still a good thing).  There’s no indication as to what Ms. Jones will be investigating for her return, but I’m all in for it based on past experience.  As well as the hope that Bendis and Gaydos hit the ground running with their return here.

Civil War II:  The Oath:  In the aftermath of the event, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers turn to the one person they implicitly trust for counsel.  Steve Rogers.  Uh, I don’t think his past has been re-written to remove all of that “Hail Hydra!” business yet.  I can see these meetings turning out badly for everyone in the Marvel Universe.  Sucks to be them!

Moon Knight #7:  James Stokoe is listed as a co-artist in this issue along with Francesco Francavilla!  I may have to reconsider my stance on passing this series up.  If only for this issue, at least.

Death of X #’s 1&2 (of 4):  It’s been hinted that something really bad went down involving Cyclops in the eight-month gap from the end of “Secret Wars” to the start of the most recent “X-Men” and “Inhumans” series.  Now, thanks to writers Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule, and artist Aaron Kuder, we get to find out what.  If you didn’t think it was possible to hate Cyclops more after Bendis’ “X-Men” run, then you may have cause to re-think your opinion here.  Or, not.  This series is also positioned as a lead-in to the upcoming “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event, so maybe Cyclops gave his life to troll the upstarts that are determined to usurp the place of mutants in the Marvel Universe.  That’s the story I’d like to read.

War of Kings Aftermath:  Realm of Kings:  Expands on the previous collection with the tie-in issues from “Nova,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” as well as the “Thanos Imperative,” “Annihilators,” and “Annihilators:  Earthfall” miniseries.  At 1248 pages for $125, it’s still a good value for your money.  Except that the last bit of it, “Earthfall,” will give you a pretty good understanding as to why Marvel decided to hand these characters over to Bendis rather than let Abnett and Lanning continue on with what they were doing.

Black Widow vol. 1:  S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted:  The “Daredevil” team supreme of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee take on Marvel’s foremost super-spy.  When some of Natasha Romanov’s biggest secrets become public, S.H.I.E.L.D. turns on one of its greatest assets.  To their detriment, I’d imagine.  Given how the organization has been portrayed in the Marvel Universe over the years, my money’s on Natasha making them look like the comic relief they are while she gets to the bottom of things.  In the event that Whedon doesn’t wind up directing the “Black Widow” movie, then I imagine this will be a more than acceptable substitute.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride vol. 5

Here is where we take a break from any long-term story threads this title has been nurturing.  Anyone expecting to learn more about Chise and Elias’ pasts, the mage school that approached Elias in the previous volume, or what that evil alchemist from the first couple of volumes is up to will have to wait and see if mangaka Kore Yamazaki decides to touch upon any of them in vol. 6.  What we get here is one subplot being capped off in emotional fashion as Chise lends a helping hand to the succubus who fell in love with the old man who tends his flower garden.  The old man is dying and the succubus is beside herself with fear and guilt at this thought, as her presence is still draining his life force even though she doesn’t intend for it to happen.  With time running out, Chise feels that the best way for this situation to be resolved is to cook up some fairy ointment that will allow the old man to finally see the spirit that has been at his side for many years.  There’s relatively little drama in the making of this ointment, but Yamazaki does a great job of selling the feelings of the primary characters in this story.  When they finally meet, the emotions of the scene ring true in bittersweet fashion.

The end of that story segues quite smoothly into the next one as the effort Chise expended in making the ointment has a devastating effect on her body.  Unsure of how to properly heal a human, Elias accepts Oberon’s offer of medical assistance and crosses the threshold with Chise into Tir Na Nog, The Land of the Fae.  While Chise gets some decidedly unconventional medical assistance from a changeling doctor, Elias hears out Titania’s request for him and his charge to come live in Tir Na Nog.  What’s most interesting in this section, and the rest of the volume in general, is the worldbuilding that Yamazaki engages in.  Fairy medicine doesn’t work the same way as the human stuff does, but there are clear and logical rules set out for how it does.  We also get to learn about Silky’s tragic-then-hopeful background, and find out about the traditions and terrors lurking in Yuletide.  Vol. 5 ends with a hint that we may be getting back to one of the threads that was put on hold here.  Yet it shows that even when Yamazaki decides to step back and flesh out the world she has created within this series, the results are still pretty fantastic.

Comic-Con 2016: It Was Fine

Yup, fine.  Between driving down on Friday and hanging out with Steve afterwards and on Saturday, I probably spent less time at the con than I have in past years.  There was still plenty of rummaging through the half-off bins as well as the four panels I attended, and fun was had in these activities.  Particularly in seeing creators I like in person (as well as one industry person that I could’ve done without) and to hear them talk about their craft.  Tsutomu Nihei’s appearance on Saturday was my main reason for attending; though, I may scale things back to just attending one day next year.  Yeah, I’m complaining about a first world problem and deserve to be mocked for it accordingly.  That’s probably not the best lead-in to my thoughts on the four panels I did check out, but they can be found after the break.

Teen Superheroes:  Hormones & Super-Powers:  Had I attended the con on Thursday, I would’ve shown up early enough to check out Kieron Gillen’s spotlight panel where he was interviewed by his frequent partner-in-crime and artist extraordinaire Jamie McKelvie.  As a bonus, Gillen’s mom also joined him on stage later in the panel from what I heard.  Not wanting to take an extra day off, I went to see him and McKelvie, along with “Monstress’” Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda, “Batgirl’s” Babs Tarr, “Ms. Marvel’s” G. Willow Wilson, and “Nimona’s” Noelle Stevenson talk about their experiences writing teen superheroes.  It was an okay experience, hampered by the fact that the moderator didn’t have a strong set of questions for the creators or do a good job of making sure they all got to speak regarding them.  Gillen had one good bit noting that writing these characters was basically superpowers plus volume, while Stevenson’s description of her “Runaways” series for “Secret Wars” made me want to check it out.  This wasn’t a waste of my time, as I can now put proper faces to all of the creators mentioned here, but it was a disappointment.

Manga Publishing Pros Industry Roundtable:  This was disappointing as well after last year’s panel turned wound up being the highlight of my Comic-Con experience.  Back for a second year were Kurt Hassler from Yen Press, Ben Applegate from Kodansha, and Erik Ko from Udon.  No rep from Viz this year, and Dark Horse’s Michael Gombos skipped out for the second year running.  New to the panel were Ed Chavez from Vertical and… Stu Levy from Tokyopop.  There wasn’t as much enthusiasm or spirited debate to the questions posed to the panel this year.  The closest we got to that was a bit of a back-and-forth between Hassler and Levy about the bursting of the “manga bubble” from years past.  There was an interesting question towards the end where moderator Deb Aoki asked the panelists if they could name a manga they published that they considered to be a gamble at first, but turned out to be a sales success.  Levy named “Fruits Basket,” Applegate brought up “Princess Jellyfish,” and Hassler mentioned “Yowamushi Pedal.”  It’s worth noting that all three titles were preceded by well-liked anime adaptations.  Had there been more time in the panel (and if I’d been quicker with the raising of my hand), I would’ve asked them to name a real publishing gamble — a title without an anime adaptation — that worked out for them.

I also want to mention that a pamphlet about Tokyopop’s latest publishing ventures was passed around to the panel attendees.  While their partnership with Disney is kind of a big deal, they’ve also got a number of new Global Manga titles being put out on their comics app.  I can only hope that these new Global Manga creators are better at reading Tokyopop’s contracts than their predecessors.  Also, while I’m sure the Disney manga will sell for the company, I can only assume that their bridges with other Japanese publishers are so burnt that they only way they could get back into the manga publishing game was through this 500 lb. gorilla of a middleman.

Spotlight on Derf Backderf:  Well-deserved by the creator, to be sure.  Except that it was depressing to see how few people showed up for this panel.  C’mon people!  He’s the creator of “My Friend Dahmer,” “Trashed,” and “Punk Rock and Trailer Parks,” three excellent graphic novels that belong in any serious comic fan’s library.  If Derf, and panel moderator Tom Spurgeon, were disappointed by the turnout they didn’t let it show.  What we got from the two was a good overview of Derf’s career and insight into the creation of these graphic novels and his alt-weekly strip “The City.”  (As well as a photo of a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer spazzing out.)  The best news I got from this panel was that Derf’s next, actually current, project is a webcomic sequel to “Punk Rock” called “The Baron of Prospect Avenue.  I didn’t think we’d ever see more of the Baron, so this was a welcome surprise.  Also noteworthy was the fact that his graphic novels are apparently huge in Europe as his stories of the American Experience struck a chord with the comics-reading population over there.  It was also nice to learn that Derf picked up an Eisner award for “Trashed” (Best Lettering) and, before the panel was over, one of Comic-Con’s officials showed up to present the creator with the con’s Inkpot Award for his contributions to the medium.

Spotlight on Tsutomu Nihei:  Nihei also picked up an Inkpot at his panel, though he had to endure the presenter’s mangling of his name.  (Seriously, how can you not take the time to learn the name of the person you’re presenting with an award?)  Though this was ostensibly a “spotlight” panel, Nihei was accompanied by the director of the “Knights of Sidonia” anime, and one of the show’s producers from Kodansha.  Much like his protagonists, Nihei was a man of few words, with his fellow panelists noting that this was the most they’ve heard him speak in one sitting.  There was a decent amount of focus on the “Sidonia” anime with both the audience and director acknowledging that they’d like to see a third season at some point.  However, that would have to wait until they’re done with the new “BLAME!” anime arriving on Netflix next year.  We got to see a teaser for it at the panel, and it looks pretty slick.  Nihei himself was so impressed by it that he asked to see it again before the panel was over.  The mangaka is very involved in this new anime adaptation of his work, to the point where the “Sidonia” manga’s end was prompted by his desire to work on it.  (It’s a credit to his skill that the ending of the manga didn’t read like it was rushed if that was the case.)  Nihei also mentioned that the new anime is going to be a re-imagining of the manga as the original work is nearly twenty years old at this point and there are some parts of it that he’s really not happy with.  Stills of one of “BLAME!’s” female characters and her counterpart from the new anime were presented to the audience for comparison and the difference was striking to say the least.  Though the new “BLAME!” anime is Nihei’s focus for now, he did say that he has another series that he’s working on for the future.  It’ll be SF, but not likely a sports manga — though I’m with the rest of the panel in agreeing that I’d love to see his take on that particular genre.

Image Previews Picks: October 2016

There has been some consternation over the fact that America Chavez has not been given a solo series over at Marvel yet.  Well, her creators have decided to take matters into their own hands over at Image.  Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta — Wait, you didn’t think I meant Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie after they gave the character her star turn in their “Young Avengers” series?  Chavez was created by Casey and Dragotta in the pages of their semi-forgotten “Vengeance” series almost a decade ago.  Now they’ve giving us “All-America Comix” spotlighting the adventures of one America Vasquez, a Latina superheroine with unspecified (as of yet) powers.

For me the most worrisome thing about this series is Dragotta’s involvement as this implies “East of West” will be on hiatus while he’s illustrating this.  Other people will likely have issues with the fact that Casey created Chavez as a straight woman who didn’t wear panties for reasons that were very important to the plot.  Because reasons.  If this is the version of Chavez that he’s trying to reclaim, then the reaction to the first issue of “All-America Comics” will be VERY interesting to see.  This is even before you take into account Casey’s predilection for doing things differently for the sake of being different while he’s clearly trying to tap into a very specific set of fanboy/girl expectations here.  Unless Casey adjusts his usual approach to superhero comics, I’m expecting this to be a trainwreck of epic proportions.

Moonshine #1:  Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso are teaming up again for another crime comic.  This time, however, there’s a supernatural and furry twist to it.  Taking place during Prohibition, “Moonshine” involves a city-slicker mob enforcer coming out to the Appalachians in order to negotiate the best deal from the local moonshiners.  What he didn’t figure on was that the leader of this crew, one Hiram Holt, would be as bad an apple as any city-dwelling crime boss.  That, and the fact that his family has a dark family secret that only comes out under the light of a full moon.  Azzarello and Risso usually do great work together.  Even the verbally-misguided “Spaceman” still had some good ideas and great visuals.  Provided that the supernatural element of this series is well-integrated into the story, I see no reason why this shouldn’t wind up being as entertaining as what they’ve done in the past.

Reborn #1:  New from Greg Capullo and… Mark Millar.  A woman dies and finds out that the afterlife is just some crazy fantasy landscape.  One where her husband is nowhere to be seen.  So she gears up and heads out to kick plenty of ass in the name of getting her true love back.  As usual with these things, I’m sure it’ll look great with Capullo demonstrating his fantasy-action chops and collecting a large and well-deserved paycheck in the process.  However, my ongoing dislike of Millar’s tone-deaf dialogue is enough reason to give this a pass.  One of these days I’ll have to pick up one of his series to see if he has gotten any better at writing words that sound like they could actually come from the mouth of an actual human being.  Until I find  compelling reason to, that’s not going to happen.

Green Valley #1 (of 9):  This new miniseries comes from an idea that Max Landis had when he was a kid that managed to stick with him all the way to adulthood.  It’s a fantasy series where four disgraced knights are given a shot at redemption by killing a wizard and his dragons.  Sounds simple enough, except that in the description of the series posted to other sites we’re also told that there are no such things as wizards, dragons don’t exist, and nothing is as it seems in the town of Green Valley.  I’ll have to admit to being intrigued by such a description, even if it turns out to be the story of some D&D gamers’ characters who find their way into the real world.  Art is from Giuseppe Camuncoli, who has the kind of range to pull of whatever Landis is asking of him here.

Shutter #23:  No, I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned this series before now.  What caught my eye in the solicitations was the naked act of begging trade-waiters to pick up its final arc in single issue form.  And I quote, “his extended-length final arc will not be collected for some time after it ends, so readers of SHUTTER VOL. 4: ALL ROADS TP’s shocking ending are highly encouraged to sign up for the single issues’ duration.”  More power to them if this approach works.  Maybe I’ll pick up the first volume sometime to see what I’ve been missing.  If I like it, I’ll be sure to pick up the next three volumes veeeeerrrrryyyy sloooooooowly to make sure I can pick up vol. 5 after it has been released.

Habitat:  In between working on “Prophet,” Simon Roy was putting this science fiction series out in the pages of the “Island” anthology.  It has a familiar setup:  Young man dreams about joining society’s elite.  He finds an ancient weapon.  Now the elites want to kill him and his former enemies are now his friends.  Roy’s work on “Prophet” has shown that he’s got a great eye for coming up with imaginative and memorable sci-fi visuals.  However, it’s his work from “Jan’s Atomic Heart,” a collection of sci-fi short stories he did by himself, that has me interested in this.  He’s a good writer and I’m expecting him to throw up some unexpected twists to mess with my expectations here.

Switch vol. 1:  In all my years of reading and collecting comics, the only “Witchblade” story to find its way into my collection is the two-part “Tales of the Witchblade” story that Warren Ellis did that found its way into “Top Cow’s Best of Warren Ellis” collection vol.1.  (There has yet to be a vol. 2.)  Launched during the height of the 90’s “Bad Girls” trend, it never transcended that label enough to get me interested.  It also didn’t attract any high-profile creators to do that either, but it did launch the career of one whose work I really enjoy today:  Stjepan Sejic.  Now, Sejic is effectively giving us “Ultimate Witchblade” as a teenage girl gets her hands on the title artifact and finds herself at the center of a war between the forces of light and darkness.  This being from Sejic, it’s going to look amazing and have enough of a sense of humor to offset any expository melodrama and not overpower the real drama.  I never thought I’d be excited to read a “Witchblade” story, but here you go.

DC Previews Picks: October 2016

So, how about that Frank Cho walking of his job of providing variant covers for Greg Rucka’s “Wonder Woman” run?  I was tempted to take the artist’s side at first since I feel he gets a lot of flack for having a style where all the women default to “sexy” and the various “Outrage!” sketch variants he does at conventions (whose trolling I find deeply amusing).  Then it was pointed out to me that this “Wonder Woman” job he had was a paid gig and therefore subject to DC’s, and Rucka’s as well in this case, approval.  Now, he just looks like a whiner throwing a hissyfit because he couldn’t draw Wonder Woman’s panties.  The smart thing for him to do would’ve been to acquiesce to the publisher’s demands and alter his art as they saw fit.  Then he could’ve sold the original “uncensored” art for an exorbitantly marked up price, satisfied in the knowledge this is what his fans really wanted.  He’s out of a job now, but you shouldn’t feel sorry for him.  He’ll be back either at Marvel, or doing his own thing through Image drawing all the sexy women he can any way he wants.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1:  The latest title from Gerard Way’s “Young Animal” imprint is a Vertigo-style take on an old, mostly forgotten character.  Carson was a spelunker who had lots of adventures below the surface of the Earth and met the love of his life.  Along the way, he also picked up the titular cybernetic eye.  While Carson was prepared to live a mundane life with his wife after they sent their only daughter off to college, his wife passed away and then he started to hallucinate.  I’m intrigued, even though this is a co-written effort between Way and a writer I’m unfamiliar with, Jon Rivera.  This is cause for concern because the last time I read something Way co-wrote, it was “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” and that wound up only having Becky Cloonan’s art to redeem it.  The art here is from another talented artist, Michael Avon Oeming, and while that means it’ll be great to look at, you should probably give up on seeing a new volume of “Powers” while he’s working on this.

Also launching from Young Animal this month is “Shade, The Changing Girl” from writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone.  This appears to be a pseudo-sequel to the seminal run from Peter Milligan as Rac Shade is name-checked in the solicitations.  It involves a girl from the planet Meta, Loma, who is bored with her life and decides to steal Shade’s madness vest and go check out Earth.  While she figures that life on this primitive planet will be easy with madness on her side, she winds up inhabiting the body of the school bully that everyone was glad to be done with.  This is in addition to the people from Meta who probably want the madness vest back as well.  It’s a good setup, enough to get me to check out the first volume.  This is in spite of the fact that we still haven’t seen the entirety of Milligan’s run reprinted.

Superman #’s 8-9:  You know, I think this might be the arc to get me onboard the Tomasi/Gleason run on this title.  Called “Return to Dinosaur Island” it features Superman (and his son) being transported to the title place with no way off.  If that doesn’t get your attention, then consider that these two issues feature art from Doug Mahnke who excels at drawing crazy monster action like this.  Well, Mahnke is the solicited artist for these issues.  I may have to reconsider my stance if someone else winds up drawing them instead.

Midnighter and Apollo #1 (of 6):  How well-received was Steve Orlando’s “Midnighter” series?  Enough to give him a victory lap miniseries teaming the title character up with the love of his life, Apollo.  I have yet to get around to buying the first volume of the original series, despite the good word-of-mouth.  Time to see about fixing that problem.

He-Man/Thundercats #1 (of 6):  If you’re not interested in this from the title alone, then it’s probably not for you.

The Flintstones #4:  In which a strange new concept called “marriage” comes to Bedrock and threatens to upend the whole sex cave status quo.  I’m all for bringing new concepts to this classic series.  The idea of a “sex cave” is not one of them, even if it’s just to get rid of it.

Batman vol. 10:  Epilogue:  A fitting title since it collects the final issue of the Snyder/Capullo run and the last bits of errata from the “New 52” era.  I was considering just ordering issue #51 by itself, but this volume also includes the “Batman:  Rebirth” issue as well.  So there’s a tangible link from the old run to the new run that will hopefully give me enough information to determine if I want to get onboard the Tom King/Mikel Janin/David Finch/Whoever’s Not Busy This Month run.  I guess I will be picking this up after all.

DC/Dark Horse:  Justice League vol. 1:  Well, I was wondering why “Superman vs. Predator” wasn’t included in the Dark Horse group of crossovers.  It turns out that DC was saving that one for this collection, which also features “Superman vs. Terminator:  Death to the Future,” “Batman/Hellboy/Starman,” and “Ghost/Batgirl.”  I only own the “Batman/Hellboy/Starman” crossover thanks to a previous “Hellboy” collection, but the rest will be new to me.  They could also be terrible, but it’s a good value for my money (famous last words, I know).

Gotham Academy vol. 3:  Yearbook:  Come on everyone!  Time to get this series back on the right track!

The Lost Boys #1 (of 6):  If you’ve been waiting for a sequel to the cult classic 80’s vampire movie, then the wait is over!  Me?  I still need to watch the movie first.  But when I do, I’ll be ready for the miniseries from writer Tim Seeley and artist Scott Godlewski that has a group of vampire babes descending on Santa Carla.  This is, of course, assuming that I can get over my disappointment at seeing this once-proud imprint turned into a home for comic book sequels to cult classic 80’s vampire movies…

The Complete Suiciders:  The Big Shake:  Lee Bermejo’s series about a violent futuresport in the post-quake ruins of Los Angeles was always of marginal interest to me.  Especially after the first volume arrived in a hardcover format.  I know DC wants to keep Bermejo happy, but seriously?  Anyway, the series never caught fire between the two miniseries and now they’ve been collected together in one softcover volume.  Is this more appealing to me?  Certainly.  Enough to get me to buy it?  Eh, maybe.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: October 2016

As I write this, Comic-Con is almost upon us.  That means there are all sorts of announcements, official and otherwise, about upcoming titles from the major publishers hitting the internet.  In the case of Dark Horse, that includes “Ether” a five-issue miniseries from writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin about an inter-dimensional explorer whose scientific mind is challenged when his help is requested in a realm of fantasy.  Kindt says that fantasy has never been a genre he’s a fan of, so the main character is acting as his surrogate as he interrogates its tropes.  “Neil Gaiman’s Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire” is another in the company’s semi-ongoing adaptation of short stories from the author.  This time, Shane Oakley adapts a short that satirizes gothic literature while also prefiguring some of the stuff that Gaiman would touch on when he went on to write “Sandman” (he wrote the story four years before starting work on that seminal comic).  There’s also “Spell on Wheels” from writer Kate Leth and artist Megan Levens, another five-issue miniseries about a group of witches who go on a road trip to retrieve their objects of power.  All of these sound promising and will be out either later this year or very early next.

Now if we can get some good manga news coming from the company out of the con I’ll be even more pleased…

Bait HC:  “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk jumps on the adult coloring book craze with this collection of bizarre stories for his fans to color.  It’s a 128-page hardcover for $20 with art from the likes of Duncan Fegredo, Lee Bermejo, and Joelle Jones.  As for what the stories in this collection are about, the only description given is that they’re “bizarre” and “off-color” *rimshot*.  Probably worth it if you’re diehard fan of Palahniuk or looking for something stranger to color than the “Buffy” adult coloring book also being offered in these solicitations.

Baltimore vol. 7:  Empty Graves:  In which old friends are buried and an attempt is made to suss out the origins of the Blood-Red Witch.  Not to sound pessimistic, but this really sounds like writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden are going to take a step back from the fight against the Red King to dig into the characters and setup future plot points.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as most of the cast could use a bit more depth to them.  Still, if you’re hoping for the narrative to keep the momentum going after the events of vol. 6, you may want to brace yourself for a comedown.

Blade of the Immortal Omnibus vol. 1:  If you’re not like me and don’t already own all 31 individual volumes, then this is something that you will NEED in your library.  One of my all-time favorites and something I can’t recommend enough.  If you’ve already bought all 31 volumes, then you’re excused from buying it.  I’ll be passing on it as there’s no indication that Dark Horse will be including any supplemental content to make me consider re-buying it.  Which I totally would if given a good enough reason.

Conan Omnibus vol. 1:  Birth of the Legend:  Also getting the omnibus treatment this month is Dark Horse’s ongoing series about everyone’s favorite barbarian!  This is advertised as collecting Kurt Busiek’s run, which means vols. 0-3, plus the two issues that wound up in vol. 4 and the extra issues that wound up in “The Blood-Stained Crown.”  There have been a lot of good writers that have tackled Conan since Busiek’s run, yet his was the most consistent and home to the best one.  “Born on the Battlefield” not only featured spectacular art from Greg Ruth, but Busiek shows us Conan’s formative years and offers up a satisfying explanation as to why the barbarian is the way he is.  Again, if you don’t already have the collected editions featuring Busiek’s work in your library…

Dragon Age Omnibus vol. 1:  This would appear to be a month of noteworthy omnibi.  Contrary to the two that I’ve just mentioned, I don’t actually own any of the stories collected here.  If I recall, I think that’s because most of them were published as slim hardcovers that would appeal to the hardcore fanbase for these games more than anyone else.  I like “Dragon Age” just fine, and am really looking forward to seeing them build off what was accomplished in “Inquisition.”  However, the $25 cover price for this 216-page softcover is something I have an easier time getting behind.

Muhammad Ali HC:  I’ve said it before, but it always bears reiteration that the collected editions from Dark Horse’s solicitations are advance-solicited by two months.  Those omnibi I just mentioned?  Expect them to arrive just in time for Christmas.  Not this graphic novel about the life of The Greatest, however.  Originally published in France from French creators Sybille Titeux and Amazing Ameziane, this will be out in October.  I’m interested in what these creators have to say about the life of this great American icon.  I also notice that this will be published in a smaller than comic-size format.  I’m sure Dark Horse has their reasons for this, but you’d think that The Greatest would want the story to be told on as big a canvas as possible.

Doctor Strange vol. 1: The Way of the Weird

Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo (with his loyal army of inkers) are ideally suited to tackling the adventures of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme.  The writer, through his runs on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “Thor,” has shown that he knows how to handle the strangest parts of this shared universe, tossing off the most over-the-top details about it with ease.  As for the artist, he’s shown over the years, between his work at Vertigo and Marvel that there isn’t really anything he can’t draw.  Now this is going to sound more than a little self-congratulatory as I say that this first volume bears out my thoughts in grand fashion.  Within the five issues collected here, Strange has to deal with the everyday magical creepy-crawlers that infest Manhattan, a possession by nomadic soul-eaters, Zelda Staunton — a librarian with an infestation of mind maggots, and an astral projection gone awry that requires him to cleave his way back to his body.  Oh, and an organization known as the Empirikul who are set on wiping out the plague on reality they call “magic” from the multiverse.

The two creators deliver an experience with this first volume that’s as gloriously weird as you’d expect from them.  Bachalo rises to the challenge of rendering all of these magical creatures — as well as Strange’s otherworldly townhouse — in vivid detail without the jarring shifts in style that marked his (clearly rushed) work on the latter half of Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” run.  Aaron delivers an eccentrically heroic protagonist in Strange, as he (both the writer and the character) clearly relish the chance to prove their skills when dealing with the fantastically bizarre.

My only concern with the series so far is in the broad strokes of the plot:  It has the main character going about his business only to be confronted by an enemy that is out to destroy him and everything he stands for.  This is basically the same setup for the “God Butcher” arc from Aaron’s (really great) first couple of volumes of “Thor:  God of Thunder.”  Some may cry foul here, but the writer does a great job of making this plot specific to Strange as he broadens the Sorcerer’s world and finds a great subplot for his manservant Wong.  Said subplot is also directly relevant to the ongoing problem of establishing the rules for how Strange can use magic without coming off as impossibly powerful.  It’s a winning debut for Aaron and Bachalo and worth picking up for anyone who has an interest in the character (assuming they can find this hardcover as cheap as I did).

Goodnight Punpun vol. 2

If you were expecting Inio Asano’s story of adolescent love, loss, and ANGST to get any happier with this second volume, then I’d bet this is the first of his manga you’ve read.  In that case, congratulations on taking the plunge!  Much like real life, however, vol. 2 shows that this series is going to be long road of ups and downs where the valleys can get wrist-slittingly depressing and the peaks always have some kind of nasty catch waiting for you at the top.

If this is what the series has to offer, then why read it at all?  That’s because Asano is really good at making Punpun’s experience feel relatable.  Part of that is through the ongoing gimmick of drawing the character in a crude, cartoonish fashion, but the mangaka also nails the feelings of awkwardness, anxiety, and fear that we all felt at that age.  In Punpun’s case, his arc in this volume involves dealing with his feelings for Aiko in middle school as she (apparently) becomes close with the star of the badminton team.  The onslaught of drama that ensues would be unbearable in lesser hands, yet Asano knows when to keep the story grounded and when to let it soar to fantastic heights of whimsy.

It’s not all about Punpun in this volume, as we learn just why his Uncle Yuichi is such a sad sack.  After meeting a nice girl at a coffee shop and subsequently doing his best to sabotage their potential relationship, he confesses to an almost-affair that ruined him professionally and personally.  The level of self-loathing on display here with Yuichi is palpable to an impressive extent.  Even so, if his arc had a conventional “healed by the love of a good woman” ending it’d still feel pretty satisfying.  Except that nothing is ever easy in this series as the quasi-cliffhanger ending to this volume makes clear.  “Goodnight Punpun” isn’t the kind of series you read to take your mind off of a hard day, but it offers up enough emotional truth and connection to fully invest me in the struggles of its characters.

DC: The New Frontier

Comics lost a great talent earlier this year with the passing of Darwyn Cooke.  He was an impeccable storyteller with an art style that may have appeared to be rooted in another era, yet effortlessly tapped into the iconic nature of whatever he was drawing.  For a lot of people, “The New Frontier” is his masterwork.  A re-imagining of the dawn of the Silver Age for DC’s superheroes, it’s a sprawling epic featuring every major and minor hero of the era.  It starts off with the last mission of The Losers on Monster Island and culminates with a battle against a giant alien monster.  In between, there’s the story of Korean War veteran and failed pacifist Hal Jordan trying to make it work as a test pilot, the martian who was accidentally brought to Earth and now tries to fit in as Detective J’onn J’onzz, and forensic scientist Barry Allen who is having the time of his life after an accident gave him super-speed.  This is their story as well as those of the Challengers of the Unknown, an African-American superhero going by the name of John Henry and fighting for his people, intelligence operative and master gamesman Faraday, and a few others by the names of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  All of this is cast against the turbulent political times of the late 50’s and early 60’s as our heroes find that the only things tougher than taking down a supervillain are dealing with public opinion and a government that doesn’t quite trust them.

I said a lot of people consider this story to be Cooke’s masterwork, but I’m not one of them.  For me, his best work would be his adaptations of Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels and it still depresses me to think that we’ll never see another one of them.  “The New Frontier” is still pretty good as it’s hard not to find yourself drawn in by page after page of Cooke’s spectacular art (with colors from the exemplary Dave Stewart) as he gets to draw everything from dinosaur attacks, to Batman taking down a cult with J’onzz and Slam Bradley, to a psychedelic assault on an alien consciousness.  Where it loses me is in the sheer sprawl of characters and plotlines throughout its 500-plus pages.  Most of the focus is on B and C-tier characters, and there’s not enough development devoted to those in the latter group to make me feel that the time devoted to them was worth it.  Except for Faraday who has a nice little “doing the right thing the wrong way” arc to his character.  I also don’t have the overwhelming nostalgia for DC’s Silver Age that Cooke clearly does, so your mileage may vary here depending on how you feel about the era.  It’s still easy to appreciate the level of craft and story being told in “The New Frontier,” but I’m left not feeling too bad that I waited this long to pick it up in this handy one-volume edition.