Monthly Archives: August 2016

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vols. 1-2

The aftermath of the American Civil War isn’t the last place I’d expect to see as the setting for a manga, but it’s pretty close.  “Sacred Beasts” kicks right off with its high concept:  In the face of losing the war, the Northern States resorted to using “forbidden arts” to create unstoppable soldiers based on the creatures of myth and legend.  They won the war, but now these creatures — Incarnates — struggle to fit in as their bestial natures start to overwhelm their human aspects.  It’s the personal responsibility of Hank, the captain of the Incarnate platoon and one himself, to track down the Incarnates who have lost themselves and put an end to the danger they pose.  Even when it means incurring the wrath of their loved ones, like one Nancy Schaal Bancroft who tries to take him out with an elephant gun the first time she sees him.  It should naturally follow from that violent first encounter that the young girl accompanies Hank on his job after she learns that it isn’t as cut-and-dried as it appeared to her.  I mean, that’s how these stories work, right?

While the setting may be novel, the story being told within it is anything but.  If you go into “Sacred Beasts” expecting to be wowed by its imaginative plotting, then you’re going to come away very disappointed.  Those of you who enter with low expectations, or (perhaps more ideal) haven’t already read too many mismatched protagonists take down mythical monsters stories will probably be more engaged by its modest charms.  MAYBE, the two-person mangaka team behind this title, invests the title with some gritty, detailed art that makes the setting appear as haunting as it needs to be while also standing out from other manga titles.  The stories themselves are also competently executed with some token nods towards the moral ambiguity of Hank’s job and fleshing out his and Schaal’s characters beyond their initial appearances.

If you were being particularly generous, it’s possible to interpret the Incarnates as a metaphor for wartime post-traumatic stress disorder.  Here are these soldiers who gave their all for their side in the war, and came back irrevocably changed by their experience and unable to fit back into society or properly relate to those around them.  Unfortunately, the metaphor falls apart (or reflects a very grim perspective on mental illness) when all of the encounters with other Incarnates wind up having the same outcome.  Probably best not to think to hard on the idea of “Sacred Beasts” having any real depth beyond its monster-of-the-week-killing goals and approach it as a kind of supernatural action/fantasy/horror comfort food.

Image Previews Picks: November 2016

Robert Kirkman has joked in the past that his dream with “Invincible” was to hand it over to other creators at some point and have it live on in much the same way that Marvel and DC titles do.  That one day he would pick up the latest issue of the title, from younger creators he didn’t know, and hurl it across the room in a fit of rage as he screams, “This isn’t ‘Invincible!’”  Well, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now as “Invincible” kicks off its final arc, a twelve-issue epic entitled “The End of All Things,” in these solicitations.  This is happening for two reasons:  The first is that Kirkman felt that the issues he was plotting out were building to a conclusion for the adventures of Mark Grayson and family, friends, and frenemies.  The second is that longtime artist Ryan Ottley was also feeling the same way, in regards to the monthly grind of putting the book out for the past decade-plus.  If both of the creators that have defined this series want to call it a day, that’s fine with me.  “Invincible” has been consistently great for the majority of its run, and I’m sure they’ll come up with a worthy finale as they’re still firing on all cylinders.

That said, this being “Invincible” after all, it’s probably time to start a death pool to see who’s going to make it out alive.  Given the way this series has rolled after all this time, we’re going to see a lot of good and bad people meeting their ends before the end comes in issue #144.

A.D.:  After Death Book One (of Three):  This was originally announced as a graphic novel at (I believe) the 2014 Image Expo.  Given that it was coming from two of the biggest talents in the industry, Scott Snyder (writing) and Jeff Lemire (illustrating), there has been a considerable amount of anticipation for it ever since.  I imagine that’s coming from people who are enamored of Snyder’s creator-owned work.  Me?  I think what he’s done on “Batman” tops his accomplishments on the likes of “American Vampire,” “The Wake,” and “Wytches.”  “Vampire” has been a fun romp through genres with little more ambition to that (and appears to be on semi-permanent hiatus at this point).  “The Wake” was a messy hybrid of “Deep Blue Sea” and sci-fi adventure that descended into silliness, while “Wytches” started out on a strong note with its pure horror vibe before turning into “Aliens” at the end.  So when you’re telling me that Snyder has a creator-owned work about a world where we humans have cured death and the consequences thereof?  I’m going to be a little skeptical about it’s must-read credentials.  Unless Batman shows up at the end of Book One.

Frontier #1:  This, on the other hand, is a total must-read for me as it’s coming from Jonathan Hickman and represents the first series he has written and drawn since his “Catholics with a time machine” miniseries “Pax Romana.”  It even has a similar high concept too:  Taking place in the far future, humanity has journeyed out to the stars and made contact with the larger galactic civilization.  The problem is that we’re subsequently kicked right of it after all the other alien races realize how angry and violent humans really are.  Now they’ve got a problem that needs our “talents” to be solved and we’ve got a shot at getting back what we’ve lost.  I’m sure this is going to work out well for all parties involved.

Chew #60:  The finale, described as an “Epilogue” in a single word of solicitation text.  It’s double-sized with a tri-fold cover.  The one we’re shown features an adult Olive Chu in an homage to the cover from “Chew” #1.  As for what’s on the other two parts of this cover… I’m hoping it’s a massive illustration of the cast, but it’s probably something far, far stranger given this title’s history.

Peter Panzerfaust #24:  I hadn’t realized it, but apparently the final two issues of this series have been MIA for a good long while now.  If you’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long for them to arrive… then keep waiting, I guess.  (Though writer Kurtis Wiebe’s work on “Rat Queens” and artist Tyler Jenkins’ work on “Neverboy” over the past year may provide at least part of the answer.)  However, it looks like the creators will finally be delivering the conclusion for this series before the year is out.  Cross your fingers and all that.

Casanova:  Acedia vol. 2:  So, will we reach the end of the current series here?  Or are we now two-thirds of the way through it?  Maybe “Acedia vol. 2” is the halfway point for the storyline?  I’ve been entertained by this series, to be sure.  It’s just that I’m still smarting after the previous volume ended without any kind of closure when all of the ones before it were relatively self-contained.  I’d say that this would be a chance for writer Matt Fraction to fix that here, but HA!  Fraction following the demands of convention and complaining fans?  That’ll be the day.

Mice Templar vol. 5:  In the world of American Comics, this is “Claymore” to “Mouse Guard’s” “Berserk.”  Granted, I reached this conclusion after only reading one volume of “Mice Templar,” so maybe reading further volumes of it is in order to tell if I’m completely off base here.  Still, it’s worth noting that “Mice Templar” has reached its conclusion with this volume and there’s no sign of vol. 4 of “Mouse Guard” on the horizon.  Vol. 38 of “Berserk” is out in Japan right now, and should be arriving sometime in 2017, but who knows what’ll happen after that.  The creators for “Mice Templar” at least deserve to be commended for their dedication to this series if nothing else, given their competition.

Paper Girls vol. 2:  In which Brian Vaughan and Cliff Chiang give us the clever-clever time travel story of the title protagonists from the mid-80’s finding themselves thrust into the horrifying future that is our present.  Expect laughs a-plenty as the eras clash when lead paper girl MacKenzie finds out that her homophobic insults just aren’t acceptable today.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, Vaughn’s puzzle-box approach to the narrative here will be come a bit more clear and entertaining as a result.  Or at least give us hope that it won’t turn out like “Lost” or “Morning Glories.”

DC Previews Picks: November 2016

There will be no review of Garth Ennis’ and John McCrea’s “All-Star Section 8” here.  I was planning to do one, and it would’ve focused on how it was pretty much what you’d expect:   Ennis bringing in DC’s heroes for one more kicking with as much bathroom humor as he could get away with in a non-mature readers title.  This time around, it has the added kick in the teeth of showing that not even Superman was exempt from the writer’s contempt as he has been in the past.  Instead of making everything right again, he keeps the vicious cycle that Sixpack is stuck in going so that he and the rest of the DCU can continue to exist.  It makes his neck-snapping of Zod in “Man of Steel” look almost saint-like in comparison.

Then I read Charlotte Finn’s review/analysis of the series over at Comics Alliance and realized that I had missed the point of the series entirely.  While it’s ostensibly a revival of the worst superteam ever from “Hitman,” Finn makes a great case for “ASS8” being a metaphor for the perils of addiction.  Sixpack may be a terrible hero, but it’s his love of these characters and their universe that keeps him from realizing that he’s really a drunk freezing to death in an alley who has dreamed the whole thing into being.  From that perspective, Superman’s offer of a whiskey bottle at the end of his life-affirming speech makes perfect blackly comic sense.

I want to thank Finn for taking the time to dig deeper into something that I had written off as something for Ennis completists.  It’s more than that, and I’ll have to keep it in mind when I get around to reading Ennis’ follow-up, now with artist Russ Braun, “Hard Travelin’ Heroz.”  For all of “ASS8’s” ridiculousness, though, I do hope that the writer’s beatboxing take on the Phantom Stranger becomes the default take on the character.  Much in the same way that Warren Ellis’ “My robot brain needs beer!” interpretation of Machine Man has over at Marvel.

Mother Panic #1:  The rollout of Gerard Way’s “Young Animal” imprint continues apace.  Violet Page is a celebutante with a bad attitude in Gotham City.  It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that someone with a mindset like hers in that particular city is about to embark on a career of vigilantism.  What sets her apart, according to the solicitation text, is that she’s going after the indiscretions of her other spoiled peers.  Okay, I’m intrigued.  This is coming to us from writer Jody Houser, best known to this point for the solo adventures of “Faith” from Valiant, and artist Tommy Lee Edwards, whose heavy-black work sounds perfect for this kind of story in Gotham.

The Hellblazer #4:  Still not sure if this latest incarnation of John Constantine’s adventures in the DCU will get me reading about them again.  That said, this cover from Yasmin Putri did bring a smile to my face.  As silly a concept as it is irresistable.

Catwoman:  Election Night #1:  It’s worth noting that by the time most of these comics from this round of solicitations hit the stands, our current (beyond crazy/nightmarish) election cycle will have come to an end.  Will Catwoman getting personally involved in Gotham City’s latest mayoral election help to put all of this real-life chaos behind us via allegory or clever satire?  Probably not.  I’m mainly bringing this up here because it features the last we’ll ever see of Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell’s “Prez” revamp from last year’s “DC You” initiative.  A well-liked series that was supposed to run for twelve issues, it was put on hiatus after six due to disastrously low sales.  The back half of the series was supposed to follow at some point, except now it’s just being wrapped up as an add-on to this “Catwoman” special.  I can’t imagine anyone who liked the miniseries to be pleased at this development.

Batman vol. 9:  Bloom (Trade Paperback):  Seeing the softcover being offered in these solicitations when the hardcover has yet to arrive just feels mean.  At least there’s only two-and-a-half weeks to go before the hardcover arrives and I can find out how Jim Gordon’s stint in the robo-Bat-suit ends.

Batman:  Death and the Maidens (Deluxe HC):  An eight-issue miniseries that also wound up serving as Greg Rucka’s swan song for his run on the character.  In it, the Dark Knight is busy sealing up Lazarus Pits around the globe, hoping to put an end to the menace of Ra’s Al Ghul.  As this is happening, the Demon’s Head has to contend with the vendetta of a woman he wronged decades ago.  Rather than fight a war on two fronts, Ra’s offers Batman a deal:  Leave him one pit for his own use, and he’ll make it so that Bruce Wayne can have one last conversation with his parents.  I remember liking this series, even though it’s been at least a decade since I’ve read it.  Most likely I’ll be re-reading it for a podcast about Rucka in general for the future.  Why him, and why now?  Why not, I say.

Suicide Squad vol. 5:  Apokolips Now:  In which our team heads off to Iran to stop an execution, only to be re-routed via Boom Tube to Apokolips.  Surviving for long on Darkseid’s home turf would be a challenge even the Justice League would likely balk at.  Except that the League doesn’t have one of Darkseid’s Female Furies on their team in the form of Lashina, A.K.A. The Duchess.  Surely she’ll provide the Squad the edge they need in order to make it off the planet and only lose just a few members in the process, and not turn on them when they least expect it?  With Ostrander and Yale running the show, I honestly can’t be sure how this is going to turn out.  Also, the cover for this solicitation is fantastic even if it’s at the expense of Amanda Waller’s dignity.

Secret Six vol. 2:  The Gauntlet:  The “New 52” relaunch of this great series was effectively derailed after a six-month gap between its second and third issues when original artist Ken Lashley left to work at Marvel.  So this second volume collects the final eight issues of it from #7 to #14.  It’s too bad that things wound up like this because the first volume showed that Simone hadn’t lost a step in writing the adventures of Catman and the very bad, no-good people he winds up working with for revenge.  I’m worried that this second volume will end on the kind of “We gotta wrap this up NOW!” note common to titles cancelled before their time, but that first volume was such an effective return to form that I’ll be picking it up anyway.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: November 2016

“The Legend of Zelda:  Hyrule Historia” has been the biggest-selling project to come out of Dark Horse in recent memory.  Two years after its release, it still makes the list of bestselling comic-related books on Diamond’s charts.  The problem is that despite all of its success, it’s still a book that originally came from Nintendo, and subsequently licensed and localized by Dark Horse.  It’s not like Dark Horse could actually go out and make a sequel themselves.  I’m also sure that Nintendo would’ve shrugged off any requests on the company’s part as they were busy dealing with the struggling Wii U and their own precarious place in the games market.

It took some time, but that sequel is on its way.  “The Legend of Zelda:  Art and Artifacts” is a four-hundred page showcase of artwork for the series.  From the pixel-based style of the original to the fully-painted works that have been produced for the upcoming “Breath of the Wild.”  Speaking of the latest “Zelda” game, there is said to be plenty of art for that entry and the volume’s arrival in February will be well-timed to catch the wave of hype for the heavily anticipated game as it is (theoretically) expected to arrive with the Nintendo NX around the end of the first quarter of 2017.

This is an easy buy for me because it’s all about something from the series we can all appreciate:  the art.  As opposed to the eye-rolling contortions displayed in the “Hyrule Historia” to bring all of the previous “Zelda” games into a single, branching timeline.

Abe Sapien vol. 8:  The Desolate Shore:  While this collects the final issues of Abe’s ongoing series, this may not be the last volume we get of his solo adventures.  Missing from the previous collections are the single issue stories featuring work from artists like Michael Avon Oeming and Kevin Nowlan.  It’s my hope that we’ll be seeing that volume later in 2017.  As for this one, well…. I still haven’t read vol. 7 yet even though I picked it up at Comic-Con.  I’ll get around to it eventually, but that should tell you everything you need to know about my thoughts on Abe’s solo series so far.

Aliens:  Defiance vol. 1:  Colonial Marine PFC Zula Hendricks and some Weyland-Yutani synthetics take on the franchise’s xenomorphs in the first collection of this ongoing series.  I’d say more, but the solicitation text for this collection is surprisingly thin on actual plot details.  The main draw here for me is writer Brian Wood, tackling his fourth licensed title at Dark Horse after “Star Wars,” “Conan,” and “EVE.”  He’s done remarkably solid work across all of them so far, and that gives me hope that this will be no exception.  It also makes me wonder why his work on these titles has been more entertaining so far than his creator-owned work on titles like “The Massive” and “Rebels.”  Maybe his third one, “Briggs Land” will be the title that finally breaks the string of high-end mediocrity there.

B.P.R.D.:  Hell on Earth #147:  The final issue of the series.  We’re told that the organization counts up their casualties in the wake of this (final?) calamity.  Given that the endgame of the Mignolaverse was going to be nothing less than the end of the world as we knew it, I’m wondering if that’s what we’re actually going to get here.  Or if Mignola and co. have some kind of “Mignolaverse:  The End” miniseries in the offing for next year that re-unites Hellboy, Abe, and the rest of their comrades/companions in the B.P.R.D. as we find out what part of humanity survives the transition to the new world.  But I’m just speculating here.  We’ll see if such a thing is actually necessary after I read the final volume of this series.

Conan vol. 20:  A Witch Shall be Born:  The Van Lente/Ching run comes to a close with one of the most famous moments in the “Conan” mythos.  His crucifixion!  At least, that’s what the solicitation text tells me.  Don’t expect any Jesus-like shenanigans from the barbarian here.  Given the life he’s led up to this point, I’m betting that getting crucified counts as a typical Friday for him, before he gets off the cross and heads out to party.  Maybe that’ll be enough to send off this run on a high note as there has been precious little to distinguish it so far.  The reason you haven’t read a review of the latest volume, “Xuthal of the Dusk,” is because it can be summed up thusly:  “Yup, it’s a volume of ‘Conan.’”  What Van Lente along with Ching and the other artists have given us hasn’t been bad.  It just hasn’t been up to the heights of the previous runs from Busiek, Truman, and Wood.

Dept.H vol. 1:  Pressure:  This is Matt Kindt’s first creator-owned work featuring his writing and art since the entertaining, inventive, confusing, and conventional “MindMGMT.”  It’s about an investigator looking to uncover sabotage in an undersea research station, and the strangeness that she encounters there.  I’m not sure this will be as crazy as Kind’s previous series — that would be a pretty hard act to top.  There are just two things I want from this first volume:  To see more of the creator’s willingness to push the form of what can be done with comics, and to deliver a story that doesn’t feature the same kind of narrative dead end that we got with the first volume of “MindMGMT.”

Ether #1 (of 5):  Also from Matt Kindt, but just as a writer.  “Aurora West’s” David Rubin is handling the art for this miniseries about a multiversal scientist who finds himself in a magical realm.  He’s there to help them solve their crimes, but how much help will someone who believes there’s a rational explanation for everything be in a place of magic like Ether.  It’s a clever premise from creators I like.  I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire HC:  With a title like that you’d hope that whoever’s writing it isn’t taking themselves too seriously.  Fortunately, this is an adaptation of a short story from Neil Gaiman.  The premise alone, about an aspiring novelist in a gothic world who wants to write nonfiction but keeps getting interrupted by talking ravens, duels to to the death, and his sinister butler, makes it clear that this is a satirical work.  With that in mind, we now just have to wait and see if the adaptation and art from Shane Oakley can deliver on the promise indicated here.

Mae vol. 1:  Gene Ha, of “Top 10” fame, is a phenomenal artist.  Is he an equally phenomenal writer?  We’ll soon find out with this first volume of his creator-owned series.  The title character is the sister to Abbie, who disappeared into a fantasy universe when she was a kid and spent her subsequent years having great adventures taking on horrible monsters, mad scientists, and power-mad nobles.  Then she turned twenty-one… and it all fell apart.  Now she’s back in the real world with Mae and all sorts of trouble has followed her.  If nothing else, it’s going to look great thanks to Ha’s art.  That might be enough to satisfy me too.  We’ll see.

Wolfsmund vol. 7

Vol. 7 wastes no time in picking up where the peasant army left off in their siege of the castle of Schwyz.  If you’ve enjoyed mangaka Mitsuhisa Kuji’s depiction of medieval siege weaponry and tactics, then she has a lot more to offer up here.  We get to see the peasant army, led by the supremely capable Heinz, fight tooth-and-nail to overcome all of the boiling oil, heavily fortified doorways, and entrenched guards to take the castle.  That turns out to be the easy part of their job as Duke Leopold returns with an army and siege weapons of his own.  I’ll admit that Kuji is able to mine a great deal of tension from how she keeps us guessing as to whether or not the peasants will be able to hold off their attackers.  That alone makes this volume a tense and engaging read.

I wouldn’t say that we’re all the way up to “compelling” yet.  My concern that the series would lose its drive after Bailiff Wolfram was killed in the previous volume is pretty much borne out here.  All of the action here is good for what it is, but it’s lacking the extra level of excitement which came from knowing that everything being done in the series was bringing us one step closer to the bailiff’s demise.  Yes, there is an effort to make Leopold the new big bad here.  It doesn’t really work as his antics here make him come off as more of a dick than a genuine villain.  I’ll keep reading “Wolfsmund” because Kuji displays some good storytelling chops with the desperate peasant struggle in this volume.  However, it still leaves me with the feeling that this title’s best days are behind it.

Dragon Age: Magekiller

While the overall quality of their licensed comics has tended to be generally quite good over the years, it’s still somewhat rare to see a “name” creator on one of them at Dark Horse.  So when it was announced that Greg Rucka would be writing the “Magekiller” miniseries set in BioWare’s “Dragon Age” universe, it was practically a given that I’d get around to picking it up at some point.  That it was also advertised as taking place in a heretofore unseen part of the land of Thedas — the once-mighty Tevinter Imperium — only added to its desirability.  With all this going for it, I’m ultimately a little disappointed that “Magekiller” winds up being only a serviceable addition to the “Dragon Age” canon.

We’re quickly introduced to Tessa and Marius, our protagonists who are in the business of killing apostate mages for the right price.  Tessa is the more sociable and talkative of the two, and she handles all the business and guile-related aspects of their work.  Marius is the strong silent type and is extremely good at taking down these mages.  So, considering their line of work, you’d think that the two of them would steer well clear of the Tevinter Imperium where the rule has always been to have magic serve man instead of how it’s the other way around in the rest of Thedas.  The problem is that when Tessa and Marius get word of a child-sacrificing cult in the Imperium they can’t bring themselves to ignore something that big.

Two magekillers in the heart of enemy territory, risking all to save some kids from a bunch of very, very evil people?  That sounds like the kind of adventure story that would fit perfectly in the “Dragon Age” universe.  It’s not the one we wind up getting, however.  The tables are quickly turned as Tessa and Marius are effectively press-ganged into doing the dirty work of Tevinter’s chief magister.  That lasts for about two issues before things go bad and the two of them find themselves on the run.  Where do they wind up running to?  If you guessed “The Inquisition” then give yourself a gold star!

The problem with Rucka’s approach here is that it gives the narrative a very scattershot feel.  First our protagonists are freelance mercs, then they’re working for Tevinter, then they’re on the run, then they hook up with the Inquisition and wind up having a tangential role to the events of the most recent game.  Tessa and Marius’ status quo undergoes so many changes that it’s hard to get invested in any one of them.  Add in the fact that the latter half of the story revolves around the “Inquisition” game and it becomes a kind of “Cliffs’ Notes” version of those events that is largely devoid of any real twists or surprises.

It’s too bad because Rucka is good with the procedural elements of Tessa and Marius’ work.  There are plenty of scenes early on in Tevinter that show how a miniseries entirely focused on their magekilling work there could’ve been really entertaining and a showcase for the depth of the world of the game.  Our protagonists are also developed well enough that they remain appealing presences despite the many changes in the story and scenery they’re put through.  Even though they’re initially presented as being cut from familiar character roles, Rucka manages to add a little more nuance to them as the miniseries goes on and we come to see what they mean for each other.

The most striking part about the art for this miniseries are the covers from Sachin Teng.  I say this because they’ve got a strikingly lush appearance to them that fits the fantasy aesthetic well, while rendering aspects of the game in a manner that’s distinct from its usual art direction.  Unfortunately, the actual art of the series from Carmen Carnero isn’t nearly as engaging.  It’s competent work that shows the artist is at least familiar with the look of the characters, monsters, and scenery of the “Dragon Age” world.  While I liked seeing that Carnero knew how to draw a Rage Demon, his work with the characters and overall action is largely devoid of any style that would’ve made it more entertaining to take in.

Given that Rucka usually works in grounded takes on the superhero, sci-fi, and crime genres, I can only assume that he took on this project to show that he can deliver a fantasy comic of the same quality as his other work.  “Magekiller” gives the impression that he should stick to those other genres.  Even with the appealing protagonists, the writer falls back on standard genre tropes to propel the story and left me more appreciative of BioWare’s storytelling in the game.  As it wasn’t a complete misfire, I’d still give Rucka another shot if he has further stories to tell involving Tessa and Marius (and the “one” on the side of this volume indicates that may be a possibility).  Maybe my lowered expectations after “Magekiller” will make me more appreciative of that one.

Citizen Jack vol. 1

Stop me if this sounds familiar to you:  A blowhard businessman decides to run for president and wins the hearts of millions with his straight talk while offending even more with his rhetoric and poor temperament.  That’s the setup for “Citizen Jack,” but its protagonist, Jack Northworthy, has one thing in his corner that Trump doesn’t.  At least, I don’t think that Trump has a demon egging him on and manipulating those around him.  Even if that were true, I don’t think that kind of revelation could make this current race any crazier.  That happens to be this title’s biggest problem.

While “Citizen Jack” wants to be an outrageous satire that one-ups reality in an even more outrageous fashion, writer Sam Humphries’ ambitions fall short here.  That’s because for all of his supposed “outrageousness” Jack never comes across as more crazy or unhinged than his real-life counterpart.  Even when he starts to self-sabotage his campaign and declares a “War on Children” to round them up and put them in camps it still feels like a weak grab for satire.  The fact that he has a demon, Marlinspike, backing him also turns out to be a fairly underwhelming plot twist.  Granted, the revelation that his relative uselessness is actually somewhat intentional is a halfway clever conceit.  That’s about as good as this series gets, however.

“Citizen Jack” does start off with some strong art from Tommy Patterson who invests the early days of Jack’s campaign with an impressive level of detail.  He’s not able to keep that up as the issues go on, and by the final issue he’s clearly straining against the deadlines.  Humphries also packs the final issue with a ton of plot developments to let you know that he has some definite ideas about where this series will go in its second arc.  If they turn out to be worthwhile, you’ll have to let me know.  “Citizen Jack” was aiming to be an of-the-moment skewering of our political process.  Regrettably, it wound up being skewered by real life instead.

Deadly Class vol. 4: Die For Me

For the freshman finals at King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, all of the rats must die.  This includes series protagonist Marcus, his goth girlfriend Petra, and former friend turned current ally Billy.  Their race to survive all the teen assassins coming for their heads stands as some of the most thrilling storytelling that this series has delivered yet.  As you’d expect, the many action scenes are breathless in their pacing and brutal in their outcomes and give you a rush that most comics just can’t offer.  It doesn’t lose a step when things calm down.  That’s when Rick Remender takes the knife out and starts to twist as Marcus, his friends, and his enemies realize that not only are things not going to plan, they really can’t trust anyone else.  I’ve made a point before about how Remender likes to grind down his characters for dramatic effect, yet “Deadly Class” remains the exception to how wearying that approach can be.  Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, suffers in this black-humored teen drama and that makes it a lot easier to take.  None of this would matter, however, without the always-stunning work of artist Wes Craig who is right there with the writer in knowing just how crazy to pitch things on the page.

While reading this volume for the first time, I was absorbed to the point where “one of the best things I’ve read all year” kept reverberating through my mind.  Then I got to the last couple of pages…

It’s not that they betray the drama of what has come before or represent an unrealistic outcome to the events of the finals.  The problem is that we’ve been down this road before with Remender.  The first volume of “Black Science” as a matter of fact.  I was all for that particular twist then, until he undid it in the second volume and destroyed a potentially fascinating story thread in the process.  It could be that he’s actually going to make good on this particular development in the pages of “Deadly Class.”  I’m more inclined to believe that we’ll see the character thought to be killed here with their chest thoroughly bandaged and in some kind of makeshift hospital bed recovering from their injuries in the next volume.  Or vol. 6 if Remender really wants to draw things out.  The good news is that even if this development does turn out the way I’m expecting it to, there’s still plenty of things going on with the (surviving) members of the cast to keep me riveted to the page.  This one development, though, still feels pretty disingenuous next to what the creators accomplished with the rest of vol. 4

Star Wars: Darth Vader vol. 3 — The Shu-Torun War

The best part about the first two volumes (we’re not counting “Vader Down” here) of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s “Darth Vader” title is how it presents the title character in a diminished state with a struggle before him, and still presents this Dark Lord of the Sith as an uncompromising badass who is not to be trifled with.  For “The Shu-Torun War,” Gillen dispenses with the struggle of the previous volumes and gives us a full volume of Vader steamrolling over every threat that crosses his path.  Which is particularly impressive given that this war is essentially the result of his own unique brand of diplomacy.  Shu-Torun is a mining world that supplies the Empire with many of the rare minerals and ores it needs for all of its projects.  In the opening story, Vader heads to the world to meet with its king and deliver a message of compliance regarding the increased quotas.  It… doesn’t go well for the king, but the new ruler is unable to properly pacify the rebelling ore barons and so the Emperor sends Vader back to end this war.  However, the scale of this operation is so great that the Emperor also sends Doctor Cylo and his proteges (who, lest we forget, are also competing for Vader’s job) along as well.

As Vader demonstrates here, such challenges are nothing before the Dark Side of the Force.  I won’t lie:  It’s actually pretty satisfying to see Vader in full dominance here.  Whether it’s destroying a mining citadel by covering it in molten rock, explaining to Shu-Torun’s queen that the nature of their deal is simply how things will be, or showing us all why Sith lords make for terrible dance partners, Vader is in fantastic form here as he’s portrayed here as less of a man and more of a force of nature.  I am implying that there’s less depth to his portrayal here than in previous volumes, but a single volume of the title character showing us why he’s the best there is at what he does still makes for a nice diversion.  Gillen also gets some great moments of (dark) comedy relief from the antics of Triple-Zero and BT, and manages to give Shu-Torun’s new queen a nice little character arc as she gets a crash course in the necessary evils of leadership.  The volume also looks fantastic as usual thanks to the work of Lenil Yu on the opening story, Salvador Larroca on the regular issues.  I will confess that I’m more partial to the former’s work here, as he thrives on tackling big and imaginative setpieces.

Vol. 3 is lacking the nuanced portrayal of the title character that has defined its previous volumes.  The good news there is that Gillen lets us know at the very end that we’ll be seeing Vader struggle a little more in the upcoming fourth and final volume of the series.  While the power of the Dark Side of the Force can easily win wars, it does tend to struggle a bit when put up against a really clever inspector.