Monthly Archives: September 2016

Image Previews Picks: December 2016

I mentioned Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Luca’s “Shutter” for possibly the first time in these solicitations a few months back.  That’s because the final arc for their series was being hyped by advertising that the collection of the final issues wouldn’t be arriving for quite some time afterward.  No word on if that has boosted sales yet, but they’ve got a more comics-traditional stunt in the offing for the title’s 25th issue.  That would be a crossover with other famous Image (superhero) characters including Invincible, Witchblade, Savage Dragon, Glory, and more as everyone sits down for a brunch.  Considering how most of the characters noted in the solicitations are veterans of the over the top, all-ACTION, all-CAPS, ALL THE TIME antics of the 90’s the idea of all of them sitting down for a brunch sounds appealingly against the grain.  One more reason for people to pick this series up as it’s coming out, and for me to get on board with it at the beginning.

Motor Crush #1:  Congratulations Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr!  You’re coming off a very successful and influential run on “Batgirl.”  What’re you going to do for an encore?  Why head on over to Image and launch a new creator-owned series, of course.  It’s part futuristic racing spectacle and part motorcycle vigilante by night series.  Aside from the fact that the title refers to an engine-boosting substance, there’s really not much insight offered into the world of the series or its mythology.  So “Motor Crush” is effectively trading on whatever goodwill you have for this specific creative team.  Which is quite a bit in my book.

East of West #30:  Kicking off the final year of the Apocalypse.  Hickman and Dragotta originally said that the series was set to run for around 45 issues, so they’re on target to wrap up as planned.  Which is good to know as the series has been thoroughly entertaining up to this point.

A.D.:  After Death Book 2 (of 3):  Oh, so this is scheduled to come out on a monthly basis?  If this is how Snyder and Lemire wanted to deliver this, then I guess that’s why it took so long for it to come out.  I appreciate their discipline there.  Now if only Snyder can apply that to “American Vampire”…  Ah, who am I kidding.  We’re NEVER going to get the third cycle of that series (he said in the hopes of being proved wrong sooner rather than later).

Monstress #9:  Most adorable cover of the year?  I think so.

The Walking Dead #161:  Part five of “The Whisperer War.”  I got the latest volume last week and…  Wow, it was really goddamned incredible in the way that it completely upended my expectations by the end of it.  The volume also gave the impression that the “pairing” seen in the covers for this arc may just be a clever bit of misdirection.  You know, given what happens to Alpha and what we learn about Negan’s true allegiance there.  Which is good, because I’d be worried about what kind of violence Maggie would visit upon Eugene if given enough reason to as this cover implies.

Black Science vol. 5:  True Atonement:  This series turned a corner in its previous volume as eternally suffering protagonist Grant McKay finally stopped screwing around and made an effort to be a better person.  Here’s hoping he’ll continue to reap the dividends of his new perspective on life as he heads off to a new corner of the Eververse to get the rest of his family back.  In case anyone was worried that this series was going to become too upbeat, this volume also promises the dimensionauts return home to their Earth and the revelation of the damage that the Pillar has wrought all through creation.  Between these developments and Grant’s new outlook on life, maybe Rick Remender has finally found the right balance of light/dark for this title.

I Hate Fairyland vol. 2:  Fluff My Life:  Vol. 1 was a triumph of art over storytelling.  Skottie Young’s astonishingly demented and violent take on traditionally cute and family-friendly fantasy tropes was a genuine feast for the eyes.  Unfortunately, its story only worked if you didn’t think about the broader implications of the effect being stuck in such a fantasy world would have on its 33-year-old-in-a-six-year-old’s-body protagonist.  That volume ended with Gert finding her fate even more inextricably tied to Fairyland, and that will no doubt result in some more great art.  As for the story… If I could keep myself from thinking about how horrible Gert’s situation really is for the first five issues, I’m sure I can pull it off for that length again.

Invincible vol. 23:  Full House:  Only two more volumes (and old sitcom titles) to go!  Also, for the first time since vol. 1, co-creator Corey Walker returns to provide the art for an entire volume.  That’s cool and all, but the real attraction here will be seeing how Mark Grayson adjusts to being away from his friends, family, and enemies for a full four years.  I’m sure Kirkman has some great ideas as to the changes this development has wrought on “Invincible’s” status quo.  However, with the announcement that the series will be wrapping up next year, it’s hard not to look at this and see it as the beginning of the end.  So get ready, folks, it’s going to be brutal from here on out!

Manifest Destiny vol. 4:  Sasquatch:  Lewis & Clark vs. Bigfoot.  ‘Nuff said, right?  Well, that’s not all the story we’re getting here.  I seem to recall the solicitations for the issues collected here mentioning the exploits of the explorers who came before our protagonists and their crew.  Given all that we’ve seen so far in this series, it’s not surprising they were never heard from again.  But was it the title creature that did them in, or something worse?  Or, are they even dead?  Maybe they’re mutant vampire cannibals by now.  After what I’ve seen in this series so far, I believe that to be a legitimate possibility.

Rumble vol. 3:  Immortal Coil:  In which we see Bobby deal with his mother’s emergence from her coma, and Rathraq with finding out that a demon has possessed his original body.  It’s going to be weird, but John Arcudi and James Harren have shown themselves to be quite good in making stuff like that appealing in this series.  Assuming you’re willing to put in the effort, that is.  Anyway, this volume is advertised as clocking in at 160 pages for the five issues collected here.  That’s… quite a lot, and it has me thinking that the creators realized the sales for the single issues weren’t going to sustain the story any longer.  So they decided to wrap it up here.  I could be wrong.  After seeing the sales for the issues from vol. 2, I was honestly shocked that this third volume is even seeing the light of day.

Inuyashiki vol. 4

If nothing else, at least mangaka Hiroya Oku finishes off the low-rent crime/revenge story he started off in the previous volume quickly here.  Just one chapter and it’s behind us.  What follows is certainly an improvement as we get back to having the story be about the different approaches the aged Inuyashiki and the teen Hiro have taken with their new all-purpose alien-made robot bodies.  The bad news is that it’s not really all that interesting because of the simplistic black and white moral contrast between the two.

After taking out all of those bad, bad Yakuza, we see Inuyashiki going around to hospitals to cure the sick with his abilities, and working with Hiro’s friend Andou to test the limits of his abilities in amusing ways.  The reason Andou is working with the old man is because his friend’s killing spree has convinced him that Hiro needs to be stopped.

The funny thing is that we don’t actually see Hiro kill anyone in his volume.  Yeah, he may have roughed up some of those cops pretty good, but we actually see a kinder, gentler side to him here.  This comes through in the scenes with his mother as Hiro uses his abilities to cure her terminal cancer and score enough cash for them to move out of their small apartment.  He’s playing the part of the good son, in a fairly selfish way.  I realize that it’s hard to argue that curing someone of cancer is a selfish act, the scene in which Hiro does it has the character acting as if it’s the disease which has done something personally to him.

Then you have his casual theft of (I’m assuming) several hundred thousand yen to pay for their new high-rise apartment.  Not that his mom is all that excited about the place, but it’s what Hiro thinks she wants.  With things going so great for him and his mother, the teen then decides that he’s not going to kill anyone again.

Which is great, right?  We should all be able to cast away our sins so easily with a level of self-assuredness and delusion that can only be called Trump-ian with the proper perspective.  Oku is quick to point out to Hiro that it doesn’t work that way and his life quickly falls apart as a result.  The volume ends hinting that the boy may be redeemed through the love of a good woman, or that the title’s gender politics are going to become extremely uncomfortable to witness in vol. 5.

Given that this is coming from the creator of “Gantz,” I should be more worried about seeing the latter come into play.  However, Oku has made it emphatically clear with “Inuyashiki” that he wants to buck whatever reputation he earned from his signature series.  “Gantz” relentlessly targeted an older teen audience with its gratuitous amounts of violence, gore, and T&A.  Oku knew his audience and clearly reveled in the freedom the series gave to display these things.

In contrast, “Inuyashiki” has used them fairly sparingly.  Wheeling them out only when a point is needed to be made about the destructive power of its protagonists bodies.  While I miss the over-the-top action storytelling that fueled “Gantz,” Oku’s approach is still pretty effective here.  The other-ness of Inuyashiki and Hiro’s abilities still has some kick to it when they wheel it out as the story demands.

You could argue that Oku is demonstrating some maturity with what he’s doing here.  Except that it’s the kind of maturity that comes with demanding that those kids get off of your damn lawn.  As I mentioned above, there’s really no moral ambiguity to the positions of Inuyashiki and Hiro.  The old guy may have some doubts about his humanity, but he’s basically a friggin’ saint in the way he utilizes the abilities that he has been given.  Hiro, on the other hand, is someone who murders random people because he can, stops because he decides it’s not cool anymore, and helps out his mom to feel better about himself.  Clearly, one of these is meant to come of as more sympathetic than the other.  It’s also hard not to think that the circumstances Hiro finds himself in at the end of the volume were directly meant to separate him from anyone who may have been able to halt his slide into further villainy.  Now I’m even more worried for that poor girl…

Vol. 4 essentially sets up the conflict of a GOOD OLD MAN vs. A BAD TEENAGER.  Admittedly, there’s some fun to be had in seeing Inuyashiki fight the good fight against the ills of society and push his own limits, while I appreciate the depth added to Hiro’s character here.  Oku’s storytelling abilities haven’t completely deserted him here even though he’s utilizing them in the service of a setup that I don’t find to be desperately compelling.  It’s as if he came out of “Gantz” with the desire to stop pandering to teens and make a conscious effort to pander to adults instead.  It’s a thought that depresses me and makes me question if I should keep reading this series to find out how all this is going to end when everything seems so obvious right now.

Marvel Previews Picks: December 2016

With DC dominating its distinguished competition in terms of marketshare for August, was there any good news for the company’s comic sales last month?  Actually, yes.  Even though Marvel lost considerable marketshare here, its sales were still 40% more than they were in August of last year when “Secret Wars” was still in full swing.  While running high-profile miniseries meant to capitalize on some of the best-known stories from Marvel may have produced some hits, it would appear that there’s still no substitute for having ongoing series tie-into the main event itself.  That said, even with a huge number of titles tying into “Civil War II” were published in August, we didn’t get an issue of the main series.  Which is likely why Marvel only had three titles, “Amazing Spider-Man” (setting up “Dead No More”), “Black Panther,” and “Star Wars” in Diamond’s top 30 for the month.  So even though the company still had a great month in terms of overall sales compared to the same month last year, it still lost the PR battle in every possible way.  That’s why DC’s victory in August stung so much.

IvX #1 (of 6):  “Inhumans vs. X-Men” kicks off with Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire doing the writing and Lenil Yu doing the illustrating.  It’s a strong creative team, to be sure.  Yu does fantastic work (when he’s not rushing to meet deadlines) and I’ve generally liked what I’ve read from both writers.  More to the point, Soule and Lemire are steering the “Inhumans” and “X-Men” franchises at the moment, so they have to be invested in the story they’re telling here.  While I’m sure the company is betting on the question of “Who Will Win?” to drive sales and interest of the series, I’m only going to be satisfied with one outcome.  That would be seeing the X-Men utterly humiliate the Inhumans and send them packing back to the realm of being a second-string franchise with only one monthly title.  There’s no replacing the X-Men.  No matter how much Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter wants that to be the case.

U.S.Avengers #1:  Marvel clearly believes in Al Ewing’s plan for his Avengers titles.  Why else would they relaunch “Ultimates” in last month’s solicitations and re-brand “New Avengers:  A.I.M.” here.  That said, without any context for this new group of U.S. Avengers backed by American Idea Mechanics, the overt patriotism of the setup borders on jingoism.  I’m willing to give Ewing the benefit of the doubt here because A) the comics I’ve read from are never as obvious as they appear to be, and B) he’s British.  So maybe we can expect some kind of “Hail Hydra!” style twist along the lines of the reveal in “Captain America” from several months back.  Could it be that Batroc the Leaper is pulling the team’s strings to pursue an agenda that is favorable to France!?  If so, remember that you read it here first!

Nova #1:  In which it’s advertised that “CLASSIFIED” is coming back, while also showing off a cover featuring the helmet of original Nova, Richard Rider.  Who we last saw sacrificing himself to bring Starlord, Drax, and Thanos out of the Cancerverse.  If you’ve been wanting to see Rider back in the Marvel Universe, then this is for you.  As for me, it’s written by Jeff Loveness and Ramon Perez with art by Perez.  It’ll look good, but the writing is a big fat question mark for me.  Pass.

Guardians of the Galaxy #15/Rocket Raccoon #1/Star-Lord #1:  In which the Guardians team finds themselves stranded on Earth in the wake of “Civil War II.”  This isn’t a crossover, but I can’t say that this is a setup that I’ve desperately wanted to read more about.  For the team in general, at least.  Seeing Rocket trying to make his way on a planet where he can be easily mistaken for unintelligent life at least has some potential to it.  As the cover for the new first issue of his series indicates.  Meanwhile, “Starlord” is now written by Chip Zdarsky, artist and co-conspirator of “Sex Criminals” and writer for “Howard the Duck.”  Either Zdarsky is going to translate his sense of quirk intact to the antics of Peter Quill and we’re going to get everyone’s new favorite title that’s both hilarious and wacky, or the end result will be bland enough to have the series cancelled in a year.  Take your pick.

Gamora #1:  Also this month, the long-delayed series spotlighting the most dangerous woman in the galaxy (who also happens to be a member of the Guardians) finally arrives.  It’s written by Nicole Perlman, who co-wrote the “Guardians” film, with art by Marco Checchetto.  While this isn’t listed as a miniseries, the solicitation text indicates the story we’re getting is going to be another take on her origin.  Which is fine, but where do you go from there?  If nothing else, Checchetto’s work on “Avengers World” and “Obi-Wan and Anakin” is leading me to expect a stunning depiction of Marvel’s cosmic scene.

Doctor Strange/Punisher:  Magic Bullets #1 (of 4):  No, it’s not the craziest team-up I’ve seen.  One of the bright spots in “Original Sin” was the odd couple pairing of these two heroes.  The real question is why it took so long for Marvel to give us a miniseries featuring them together.  Particularly since the good Doctor’s movie will have been out in theaters for over a month by the time this hits the stands.  This comes to us from writer John Barber, who has a long history writing “Transformers” comics at IDW, and artist Andrea Broccardo, who has done various fill-in work for Marvel over the years.  Now we just have to wait and see if this oddball writer/artist team can do appropriate justice to this equally oddball superhero pairing.

Star Wars:  Classified #’s 1&2:  So this is the mystery ongoing series for Marvel that Kieron Gillen was hinting at.  I was kind of hoping for a return to the Marvel Universe, but the writer’s work on “Darth Vader” has shown that more “Star Wars” work from him is something to be excited about.  As for what it could possibly be about, the most likely bit of speculation has this being a solo series for Doctor Aphra, with BT and Triple Zero along for the ride as well.  I’m sure Gillen would want to have a firm hand in detailing the further adventures of the characters he created for the “Star Wars” universe before fully handing them over to the creative community, and the personal investment in that would get him to stick around for another ongoing series.  Also, the successful launch of a “Doctor Aphra” series would show that Marvel can add its own concepts to the “Star Wars” universe as opposed to spotlighting existing characters in ongoing and miniseries.  At the end of the day, however, it’s more comics work from Gillen, and I’m all for that in any universe.

Civil War II HC:  Arriving in December, assuming that it doesn’t experience any further delays.  If I can find it at a deep enough discount, I’ll pick it up.  Otherwise, I’ll be waiting to read it in paperback, or when it ComiXology has it on sale.

X-Men:  Legacy — Legion Omnibus:  Collecting the four volumes that made up writer Si Spurrier’s run on the title spotlighting Charles Xavier’s son who is as powerful as he is disturbed.  I didn’t think it was going to last a year, but I was clearly proven wrong.  It also turned out to be pretty great too.  Why is it getting the omnibus treatment?  In case you haven’t heard, there’s going to be a “Legion” series featuring the character on FX next year.  So it makes sense to have the definitive story about the character in a handy one-volume format for anyone who wants to check it out.  Yes, that’s right, the definitive Legion story.  He’s been around for a good long while, but the character was never explored or used as well as he was here.  However, god help the writer who has to undo Spurrier’s perfect ending if Marvel decides they want to have the character back around to cash in on the presence of the TV show.

DC Previews Picks: December 2016

To say that DC had a good August would be understating things by quite a bit.  The fact that they  utterly trounced Marvel in overall marketshare for dollars and comics sold is impressive in itself.  What’s really shocking is that the company managed this feat by shipping a third less books than its main competitor.  No, there hasn’t been a whole lot of creative diversity or risk-taking in the “Rebirth” titles, but that doesn’t matter when you can ship two issues of “Batman” in a month.  That might sound like sarcasm, but I want to make clear that it isn’t.  DC needs a solid base with their superhero titles if they’re going to fund diversity elsewhere.  I’m looking in the direction of their new Young Animal imprint and whatever’s going to become of Vertigo in the future.  Also, overall comics sales for the month of August topped 10 million — the first time that’s happened since the bubble era of the 90’s.  A rising tide lifts all ships.  Now let’s see if they can maintain this sustained growth through the end of the year.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1&2 (of 6):  The first major event series of the “Rebirth” era kicks off from a plot point that makes enough sense:  What happens when the Justice League finds out about the Suicide Squad?  I’d imagine that the heroes aren’t going to be all that happy to find out that the villains they’ve been turning in to be incarcerated are being put on a kind of “work release” program sponsored by the U.S. government.  But, as these things go, I’m willing to bet that some huge threat will emerge that’s going to force the two teams to work together or the greatest good.  Or there will be some kind of mind-swap craziness that will result in the two teams swapping bodies with each other.  Is America ready for Batman in Harley Quinn’s body?  This comes to us from Joshua Williamson, current writer of “The Flash,” who didn’t impress me at all with his creator-owned title “Nailbiter.”  It at least has a solid artist in Jason Fabok, but I’m filing this series away in the “wait and see” corner of my mind.

DC Rebirth Holiday Special #1:  I’m mentioning this because it contains a phrase I never thought I’d read regarding a DC comic:  “Wonder Woman interrupting John Constantine’s hellblazing pagan party.”  Part of me is morbidly curious and a little excited about this idea, and another part is just going, “NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!” over and over again.  There are numerous creators involved with this, so I’m not sure if it’s Paul Dini, Steve Orlando, James Asmus, Tim Seeley, or one of the other writers attached to this special who is responsible for the story in question.  Now, if you told me that Brian Azzarello (who has written both Wonder Woman and John Constantine) was serving this up, I’d honestly be a lot more amenable to it.

Batman vol. 1:  I Am Gotham:  Tom King takes over from Scott Snyder, and it looks like DC is double-dipping by reprinting “Batman:  Rebirth” here as well as in the final volume of the Snyder/Capullo run.  While King has gained a lot of acclaim over the past year for his work on “The Sheriff of Baghdad,” “The Omega Men,” along with “The Vision” over at Marvel, he hasn’t really wowed me just yet.  He’s a solid craftsman, and the stories he’s created are interesting enough.  It’s just that they’re predictably downbeat as you can set yourself up to expect the worst for the characters in his stories and it’ll likely happen.  “Batman” will be the first A-list character he’s tackled, and you can only have so much bad stuff happen to them before they have to be built up again.  “I Am Gotham” has Bats butting heads with a new hero who takes his name from the city.  Gotham, the hero, wants to save Gotham from its longtime protector.  Which means that he’s either deeply misguided or a villain trying to setup the title character.  Its within one of these familiar setups that King is going to have to find enough invention with which to impress me.

Superman vol. 1:  Son of Superman:  I wasn’t expecting to pick up a “Superman” title post-”Rebirth,” but the good word about Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s run has convinced me to do just that.  Mind you, we’re dealing with a fairly complicated setup here:  This isn’t the “New 52” Superman, but the pre-”Flashpoint” one who is not only still married to Lois Lane, but a father as well.  Now he’s back in the saddle again while he and his wife are faced with the difficult choice of whether or not to have their son hide their powers and live a normal life, or embrace his superheroic heritage.  I’m betting on the latter, in case you were wondering.  Even if that’s a foregone conclusion, the word is that Tomasi and Gleason have delivered a take on Superman that’s as straightforwardly heroic as you could hope for, and I’m all for that.  Along with seeing the always-great Doug Mahnke tackle a couple issues in this collection as well.

Checkmate by Greg Rucka vol. 1:  A super-powered espionage series from Rucka that explores the seamy underbelly of the DCU?  Sign me up!  I was really excited for this series when it was announced, and the first couple of volumes delivered on that promise.  Then Rucka had the bright idea to do a storyline about the downfall of the most interesting character in the series:  Amanda Waller.  I don’t want to say that it’s telling that the series ended after the next arc (which was collected in an unrelated volume all about the villain Kobra)… but it totally is.  Best to pick up this volume only and enjoy the series in its prime.

Astro City #41:  This might seem like an unlikely number for an anniversary celebration, but it’s actually the one-hundredth issue of “Astro City” published across its many runs.  Congrats to Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross on this milestone after all this time.  Meanwhile, I’ll take this as a reminder to start getting caught up on this title and order vol. 3 from Amazon the next chance I get.  I have no excuse, particularly since the first two volumes were as good as the series’ reputation had led me to believe.

Hellblazer vol. 15:  Highwater:  Reprinting the finale of Azzarello’s run, along with its arguable high point as well.  The title story has John Constantine tracking down the wife of the man who killed himself and sent the magician to prison in the process, only to find that she’s taken up with a group of white supremacists.  Said supremacists are also being funded by the mysterious S.W. Manor, who shares a sordid history with Constantine.  The best thing about this story isn’t the supernatural vengeance that Constantine helps to wreak.  Though that is pretty great since it involves a golem (being a figure of Jewish myth and all).  No, what makes this story great is how Azzarello shows that while these supremacists are still pretty awful people as a result of their beliefs, they’re still human as well.  Good parents in particular, which makes it both heartbreaking and satisfying to see the writer stick the knife in and twist it into their lives at the end.

Angel Catbird vol. 1

Strig Feleedus is a genetic engineer who is working on a big project for Muroid Inc.  It’s a super gene-splicer formula that could have a huge impact on the world as we know it.  The bad news is that his boss, Dr. Muroid, is actually a half-rat shapeshifter who wants to use the formula to take over the world.  Proving to be not very good at the whole hands-on aspect of his evil mastermind agenda (usually he leaves the little things to his rat army), he botches the hit-and-run that would have taken Strig out of the picture.  Instead, due to the proximity of Strig’s cat and a nearby owl, the heroic Angel Catbird is created!

If you’re wondering what Margaret Atwood, the creator of high-minded, literate works like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is doing in writing a comic about a half-human/half-cat-owl shapeshifter who gets caught up in a battle with other shapeshifters like him for the fate of the world, the answer can be summed up like this:  Whatever she wants.  As Atwood lets us know in her introduction, she’s been a comic fan for a good long while and has had this idea kicking around for a bit as well.  While the insight into her personal history as well as the creation of “Angel Catbird” is nice, it’s the IDGAF tone that runs through her introduction that makes it the most entertaining part of the book.

Yes, despite the fact that I’m an avowed cat person, I found the actual story in “Angel Catbird” to be too simple to get involved in.  Strig’s difficulty in adapting to his new circumstances and the conflict he finds himself in feels like it comes right out the superhero guidebook.  Same goes for his relatively bland love interest, Cate Leone, and the villainous-but-boring Dr. Muroid.  Even the art from Johnnie Christmas has a blandly simplistic feel to it that belies the design work that went into it (helpfully documented in the back of the volume).  The one exception to all this is Count Catula, a half-cat/half-bat shapeshifter who has fully embraced his vampiric look.  You’d think he’d come off as too silly for a series that is relatively grounded in its approach, but his kind of weirdness enlivens every page he’s on.  Promisingly, Vol. 2 is subtitled “To Castle Catula!” so I’m not ready to give up hope on this series yet.

Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story: The Ice Reaper vol. 5

What, no reviews of the three volumes in the series between this and the first one?  Nope.  “The Ice Reaper” never really rose above the level of fantasy comfort food in its exploration of the backstory of Kurasame and his companions, collectively known as the Four Heroes of Rubrum.  Our protagonist gains greater power as a wielder of ice magic, teams up with his friends to achieve great victories, realizes that sometimes said victories are tainted by the hollow machinations of politics, and finds out that being a hero means giving up important things in your life.  Like True Love and all that jazz.  None of this has been outright bad, but it has left me with the distinct feeling that this series was meant to be enjoyed by a younger and less jaded fan than I.

This final volume manages the, ah, interesting trick of moving the needle of quality back and forth enough that it winds up in a neutral position.  In spotlighting Kurasame and the Four Heroes’ final mission, we are treated to a kind of betrayal as it turns out that one of the team is acting on orders from on high to kill the rest of the team as part of a deal with Orience that will provide Rubrum with information on their latest weapon.  The mechanics of said deal are not explained in enough depth to make this action sound sensible, or even less dumb, and that’s disappointing.  It does, however, provide Kurasame with a moment after the killing is done to take action and decide how to settle things for himself.  A refreshing change considering how he spent most of the series reacting to things done around him.

Then you’ve got the final chapter which acts as a kind of corrective to the heavy melodrama in the rest of the volume.  It’s a flashback that involves Kurasame acting as a kind of matchmaker to the students of Akademia during a festival.  There’s a heavy focus on slapstick and a lot of cameos from the “Type-0” game cast as kids.  It’s amusing enough and I guess it’s nice to see that mangaka Takatoshi Shiozawa realized that the readers of this series would be better served going out on an upbeat note.  He’s right, and I wish he’d displayed more smarts like this over the course of the series proper.  “The Ice Reaper” is a more coherent and competent story than the game that it’s based on, but in the end I guess you could say it left me… cold.


Dark Horse Previews Picks: December 2016

Unless you count the build-up for The Legend of Zelda:  Art & Artifacts (featured in these solicitations) then there hasn’t been a lot of Dark Horse-centric news this past month.  So I’m giving a special above-the board mention to the debut of a new manga title in these solicitations:  Hatsune Miku:  Rin-Chan Now! Vol. 1.  I know nothing about the whole Vocaloid phenomenon beyond the fact that Hatsune Miku is the most popular of them all, and Unofficial Hatsune Mix was the most popular Dark Horse manga release of the past few years.  Which is why you’ll likely be seeing more Vocaloid-related releases from the company after “Rin-Chan Now!”  Not much is said about the manga itself in these solicitations, save for the fact that it’s by the same creators who did the “Rin-Chan Now!” music video.  Remember, media tie-ins like this are the likely future of manga from Dark Horse, so expect to see more Vocaloid and anime-related titles from them in the future.

If that bothers you, then I’d recommend you go out and buy several volumes of Eden:  It’s An Endless World, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and/or I Am A Hero for yourself and your friends.  Dark Horse isn’t going to know that you want more of titles like these if nobody is buying them.

Angel Catbird vol. 2:  To Castle Catula:  The first volume of “Angel Catbird” was renowned writer Margaret Atwood’s first graphic novel and the first of a trilogy.  However, if you went into it expecting something along the lines of her literate and thoughtful fiction then you’d be in for a rude awakening.  It’s a simple superhero story about a group of shape-changing cats at odds with a genetic engineer who’s also half-rat and looking to take over the world.  As Atwood makes clear in her introduction, she’s doing this for fun and is in clear IDGAF mode.  There’s some fun to be had here, but the story and characters are pretty simple.  It’s something I’d have no problem letting my nieces read… if it wasn’t for all of the cat-pun-related talk about how the leads are really hot for each other.  Vol. 2 has all the main feline players off to take refuge in Count Catula’s castle.  That sentence represents the kind of crazy that the first volume could’ve used more of, so we’ll see if vol. 2 delivers on that front.

Bounty vol. 1:  The Gadflies were once the most wanted criminals in the galaxy.  Now they’re looking to become it’s best bounty hunters.  I’m sure that’s going to go over well with all of their old friends.  The biggest question with this volume is whether or not it’ll be the first title from Kurtis Wiebe that I’ll enjoy without reservation.  “Peter Panzerfaust” and “Rat Queens” had significant issues either with the art or the storytelling that prevented me from getting fully invested in them.  Maybe this volume will be the one where he finally delivers on his potential as a writer.  It’s also arriving at an Image-worthy price point of $10 for the first five issues, so that’s a good thing too.

Dark Horse Presents #29:  Worth a mention because the solicitation text tells us that the company is celebrating Francesco Francavilla’s first decade in comics!  Which is great because he’s a tremendous talent whether he’s illustrating “Batman,” “Afterlife With Archie,” or his creator-owned title “The Black Beetle.”  It’s that series which gets a new short in this issue called “Kara Bocek.”  I’d be more excited for that if it weren’t for the fact that the first volume of “The Black Beetle” featured writing as pedestrian as the art was stunning.  I’m sure this short will be collected years from now in another volume.  After the first one, I can wait to see if Francavilla has improved as a writer even if his art remains just as stunning.

Dead Inside #1 (of 5):  “B.P.R.D.’s” John Arcudi brings us this new crime series about a detective who investigates prison crimes.  Most of the time they’re pretty easy to solve.  You know, with the limited amount of suspects whose moves are tracked on a daily basis.  This time around, Det. Linda Caruso is faced with a crime that leads her to uncover some uncomfortable truths.  There doesn’t appear to be a supernatural angle to this and that’s fine.  Arcudi has shown that he can do crime stories about real people in “The Creep,” about a private investigator with acromegaly.  That said, the artist for this series is Toni Fejzula whose previous series, “Veil” with Greg Rucka, showed a real penchant for stylized work involving supernatural characters.  We’ll see if he can rein those instincts in for this series.  Unless it’s all a trick and the demons make their presence known at the end of this first issue.

Groo:  Fray of the Gods:  It turns out that I was mistaken about a couple things when I wrote up my thoughts on the first issues of this latest miniseries.  One:  It’s not another twelve-issue maxi-series, only a four-issue one.  Two:  Groo isn’t interacting with our gods.  He’s mixing it up with fictional ones that Aragones and Evanier have created for this mini.  That’s kind of disappointing, but I guess there’s still a limit to how much controversy these creators (and, by extension, Dark Horse itself) are willing to court.  Besides, I’m sure it’ll be fun guessing which of the gods in Groo’s world are meant to be standing in for the ones in ours.  It’s probably the only way they could actually fit Allah into the story anyway!

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe:  The Comic Strips:  Further proof that if something is successful for Dark Horse, they will go on to reprint ANYTHING associated with it.  This latest “He-Man” comic collection comes to us on the heels of the company’s compilation of the comics that were included along with the action figures.  Now we’re getting a reprint of the newspaper comic strip series that ran in selected papers and continued the story from the end of the first animated series.  I’d, uh, rather not think about the quality control (or lack thereof) that was involved in a newspaper strip from the 80’s that was based on a cartoon, that was based on a toy line.  Still, if you’re into all things “He-Man” then this is something you’re probably going to want on your shelf.

Moby Dick HC:  Adapted from Herman Melville’s book by writer/artist Christophe Chaboute.  I’m sure it’ll be nice, but seeing this reminds me of the “Classics Illustrated” version of the story I used to have.  That one had art from Bill Sienkiewicz and it was just as intense as you’d expect.  Want to see an Ahab who is almost demonic in his obsession with the White Wale?  Want to see a Moby Dick whose size and fury is the stuff of legend?  That’s the version you want.

Tomb Raider Archives:  How big was “Tomb Raider” in the 90’s?  Big enough to spawn a best-selling comic book series from Top Cow.  It also probably says more about how Lara Croft was presented in that era that this series came from Top Cow, as well as the likely quality of the issues collected here.  Even if they’re coming from seasoned superhero writer Dan Jurgens, the Top Cow of the 90’s was a looooooooooong way from the company that would eventually bring us the likes of “Sunstone” and “Think Tank.”  While the solicitation text promises contributions from the likes of Marc Silvestri, Michael Turner, and David Finch, only Andy Park and Francis Manapul are credited as artists for the fifteen issues collected here.  So if you’re fans of the first three artists mentioned here, expect to only see the variant covers they contributed to this series.  Being a 90’s title from Top Cow, however, there’s likely going to be a lot of them.

Star Wars vol. 3: Rebel Jail

“Vader Down” notwithstanding, I’ve generally enjoyed Jason Aaron’s work on “Star Wars” so far.  The second volume even indicated that we could expect stronger work from him when he’s not bent on bringing in big-gun guest stars like Darth Vader and Boba Fett.  With “Rebel Jail” he has an even bigger opportunity to add something to the “Star Wars” mythos by telling us a story set in an all-new location:  the Alliance’s top-secret prison.  Unfortunately he mostly whiffs this opportunity by delivering a standard action story that rehashes familiar and tired moral arguments along the way.  If that wasn’t bad enough, this volume also shows that Kieron Gillen is the better “Star Wars” writer whether he’s writing from the perspective of the Empire or the Rebellion.

Gillen’s contribution is placed upfront in this volume for reasons which will be clear later on.  It introduces us to Eneb Ray, a Rebellion spy based on Coruscant.  He’s very good at what he does, so when Princess Leia contacts him with a job to rescue some anti-Imperial senators who are about to be executed you can be sure that he’ll get the job done.  The catch here is that upon their rescue, the senators tell Ray that the Emperor is on his way to personally oversee their execution.  With the chance to take out the Empire’s leader within his grasp, it’s up to Ray to use all of his skills as well as the resources at his disposal to make it happen.

If you’ve seen the original trilogy, then I don’t think I need to tell you whether or not his plan is successful.  Given that, I’d call the whole thing “satisfyingly downbeat” as Gillen serves up plenty of witty dialogue, slick action, and an ending that shows us why the Emperor is the biggest bastard there is.  The art from Angel Unzueta is also very professional in its clean look and efficiency with storytelling.  Ray’s story is ultimately a compelling one about a person who has to learn a hard lesson about the difference between a spy and a hero and the high point of this volume.

Following this, we get into “Rebel Jail” proper as Sana Staros and Leia have teamed up to bring the captured Doctor Aphra to Sunspot Prison.  This is the Alliance’s top-secret prison where all of the Imperial criminals they’ve captured are being held in the orbit of a sun.  The idea is that after the war is over, all of the individuals in the prison will be given a proper trial for their crimes.  At least, that’s what I gathered.  There is one person who has an issue with this, and he has decided to make his thoughts known by infiltrating and taking over the prison with his cadre of war droids.  Now, faced with an unknown, powerful enemy, and a prison full of people who want them dead, it’s up to Leia and Sana to restore order.  With the help of Aphra, of course.  Assuming that the Doctor’s troubled past with Sana and general dislike of the Rebellion won’t convince her to try and spin the whole situation to her advantage.

Seeing these three female furies team up to take on a prison full of bad, bad individuals should’ve been a recipe for awesomeness here.  I will say that there is some fun to be had in seeing the flinty interaction between Leia, Sana, and Aphra as they go about business with blasters blazing.  A couple things drag this setup down considerably.  While Sana debuted with a lot of potential as Han Solo’s ex-wife, Aaron didn’t do her any favors in the previous volume by revealing that she was just acting out a kind of lovesick delusion.  Though the writer gets some decent mileage out of the character’s take-no-crap demeanor here, he undercuts Sana’s character again through her interactions with Aphra.  I like the idea that the two characters have some kind of (Shady?  Antagonistic?  Romantic?  All of the above?) history, but having Sana constantly recommend that Aphra be taken out for the majority of the story before having a last-minute change of heart just rings false.

More of an issue is the mystery antagonist behind the prison takeover.  I say “antagonist” because he doesn’t believe he’s a bad guy.  No, he’s just here to help Leia and the rest of the Rebellion realize the hard choices they need to make in order for them to win.  Such as killing all of the prisoners!  Why is he doing this?  Because this is what the Rebellion made him!

Nearly all of this guy’s dialogue is either melodramatic as hell or preaching from the good book of “Ends Justify the Means.”  So his character manages to be an unappealing mix of boring and annoying, to the point where the revelation that he’s a kind of disturbed killer as well feels like one more cliche added to the pile.  Not helping matters is the fact that Leia is saddled with responding to his charges with the same kind of familiar “We have to prove that we’re better than them?” rhetoric that turns the whole argument into an unappealing echo chamber of tropey accusations.

If you’re wondering who the main bad guy here really is, you’ll find out by the end of the story.  Maybe sooner if you’re familiar with the Law of Economy of Characters.  The problem with using this guy as the villain is that it feels like we’re missing a few stories explaining how he wound up here.  I can understand that he’d be bitter after the failure of his last mission, but to go from that to taking over the Rebellion’s prison with his droid army suggests a kind of megalomania that wasn’t present when we first saw him.  Using him in this role feels like Aaron is trying to force a characterization that just doesn’t work.

There is some fun stuff going on around the edges of the story.  As this is going on, Luke and Han are on a supply run for the Rebellion that goes somewhat awry thanks to the latter’s rusty Sabacc skills.  This leads them to a low-end smuggling involving a whole lot of nerfs.  It’s all played for light comedy and it’s fun seeing Luke and Han bounce off of each other in a low-stress scenario.

Doing the best with what he’s given is Lenil Yu, who showed that he could knock “Star Wars” stuff out of the park with his contribution to the most recent volume of “Darth Vader.”  The four issues he contributes here aren’t quite as strong, but he still provides plenty of memorable visuals.  Whether it’s high-end stuff like the double-page approach to Sunspot Prison or the initial breakthrough of the bad guys into the prison, smaller stuff like a panel of prisoners being let out to go hunt Leia and company, or just seeing the Millennium Falcon in action, Yu consistently delivers solid work that’s arguably better than this story deserves.

Rounding out the volume is another entry “From the Journals of Old Ben Kenobi.”  I wasn’t that impressed with the entry in the previous volume, but this one is an improvement.  We get to see more of how Kenobi carved a life for himself out in the desert has he helped the Jawas defend themselves from Tusken Raiders, watched over Luke and helped him from a distance, and quarreled with Owen Lars as a result of it.  This is a lot more interesting than the “desert vigilante” setup we got from the previous journal entry and it features some fantastic art from Mike Mayhew.  The artist traffics in a very photorealistic style which leads to some awkward expressions at times, but there’s still a vibrancy to his storytelling that draws you in.  It also shows that he can do quality “Star Wars” work when he’s not rushed to do it as he was with “The Star Wars.”  The story ends on a promising note as we find out that Jabba has hired a character who has appeared in both this title and “Darth Vader” to go after this mysterious individual who attacked his water tax collectors.

All told, the title arc in this volume is probably the least enjoyable “Star Wars” story I’ve read from Marvel yet.  It may have its moments and good art, but the ill-used protagonist and forgettable moral argument at its core just drag it down.  This arc also represents a huge missed opportunity by failing to show us how a prison is really necessary for the Rebellion.  Instead, it’s just the set for a cut-rate action movie.  Aaron has done better before and elsewhere, so I can only hope that he delivers better results with vol. 4 and its introduction of the Scartroopers.

Spider-Man/Deadpool vol. 1: Isn’t it Bromantic

In *ahem* researching Joe Kelly’s “Deadpool” run for the podcast, I found that while it had its moments it wasn’t as entertaining as you’d expect from a defining run on a character.  I was more entertained by the recent Duggan/Posehn run that managed to mix action, comedy, and drama in a more satisfying fashion.  Now the tables have turned.  Duggan’s first solo volume of “Deadpool” was bad enough to convince me that the writer had lost his handle on the character and future volumes would likely be even worse.  Meanwhile, Kelly — along with Ed McGuinness, who illustrated a good chunk of that historic run — is back writing the character that made him famous in a team-up title with Spider-Man.  This results in a surprisingly good read with a density that you don’t see often in superhero comics these days.  Which is good because the time you’ll spend re-reading this will help ease the wait between new volumes of this title from these creators.

“Isn’t it Bromantic” kicks off in an appropriate fashion.  With Deadpool making dick jokes while he and Spidey are tied up and at the mercy of Dormammu and the Mindless Ones.  It only gets more bizarre from there as the rest of the volume has the hard-luck hero and the “still really wants to be a” hero find themselves facing off against a sewage-powered Hydro-Man, at the mercy of Mysterio’s illusions, watching Thor throw down with a succubus before our guys have to dance like their lives depended on it, and getting Peter Parker’s soul out of Hell after Deadpool shot him in the head.  Twice.  For both of those things.

About that last bit:  It turns out that someone has hired Deadpool to kill Peter Parker because the head of Parker Industries is involved with some really shady dealings involving genetic experiments on homeless people.  The problem is that Deadpool really looks up to Parker’s “guardian angel,” Spider-Man.  Spidey is the kind of hero that the Merc With a Mouth wishes he could be and he wants to find a way to take this scumbag out without destroying the relationship he’s cultivating.

This being Deadpool, he goes about it in a really back-asswards manner that ultimately does more harm than good even if he winds up doing the right thing in the end.  With dick jokes.  Funny ones too!  It’s actually reassuring to see that Kelly’s comedic chops weren’t limited to a writing a cult superhero on the fringe of the Marvel Universe in the 90’s.  A lot of the interaction between Spidey and Deadpool is genuinely amusing, while the supporting cast and guest stars have plenty of worthwhile moments too.  Not every line in this volume is comedy gold, but the majority of them hit and Kelly keeps flinging them at the reader fast enough that you’re never disappointed for long.

Which is good because the story re-treads some awfully familiar ground.  One of the main plot threads from Kelly’s original run was how Wade Wilson was constantly trying to step up and be an actual hero, only for circumstances and his general mindset to undermine his efforts.  That’s being brought up again here through his interactions with Spider-Man.  Familiar as this story may be, it doesn’t feel like a retread since it’s also playing off against the dramatic tension that comes with the fact that Wilson is trying to have his cake and eat it too as he buddies up with Spidey and plots to kill Parker.

This setup is also resolved by the end of the volume when the real villain makes their presence known.  It’s pretty clear that taking down “Patient Zero” and finding out the nature of the beef he has with Deadpool and Spider-Man is going to drive the rest of the series.  I’d be more enthusiastic about it if the bad guy wasn’t so one-dimensional.  At this point, it feels like his success has been dictated by the plot rather than achieved through his own efforts.  So it’s hard for me to really get invested in a long-term story about his eventual downfall.

One other thing that might turn some people off about this volume is how steeped it is in current Marvel continuity.  Outside of crossovers, most Marvel titles have been pretty continuity-light when it comes to acknowledging the goings on other titles.  That’s not the case when it comes to “Spider-Man/Deadpool.”  I was expecting the kind of story where the events of the characters’ ongoing titles were pushed off to the side and was instead treated to one that deals explicitly with Parker’s role in Parker Industries, hints that the marriage Parker gave up to Mephisto may play a key role in the plot, features another “Spider-Man” guest star in the form of Miles Morales, having key scenes hinge on the involvement of Deadpool’s wife and daughter, and has a cameo appearance from all of Deadpool’s “Mercs For Money.”  If you’re not up on the characters’ current continuity then all of this can be a little overwhelming.  Kelly smartly focuses most of the series on his two leads, so it’s not necessary for readers to be aware of all this stuff beforehand.  Still, he’d be better off without scenes like the one where Deadpool makes out with Death as an homage/reference to the time the characters did it back in his original run.

While I’ve talked a lot about Kelly’s work in this volume, it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be nearly as effusive with my praise if it weren’t for McGuinness’ art.  His work has always had a cartoonish bent to it, but he channels it in a way that just makes the action look bigger and bolder.  That’s a great asset to have in a series that thrives on over-the-top comedy like this one.  While the opening issue’s face-offs against Dormammu and Hydro-Man look fantastic, the volume’s most memorable sequence has Spidey and Deadpool dancing in their skivvies for the amusement of Thor, a succubus, and a bunch of ladies at a bar.  Also, I don’t know whose idea it was to have a bamf cameo in the first issue, but they have my thanks.  McGuinness’ design for them hits the perfect balance between cute and fearsome and I’d love to have a plushie based on it.

Really, it’s hard to imagine anyone else but McGuinness drawing this series.  Marvel apparently feels that way too because this volume collects issues one-through-five, and eight.  Why is that?  Well, it would seem that the company recognizes that while Kelly and McGuinness and the story they’re telling here are the real draws, not publishing an issue of a comic called “Spider-Man/Deadpool” on a monthly basis would be leaving money on the table.  So expect lots of fill-in issues as these creators work to finish the story they’re telling.  (Admittedly, I am looking forward to the one written by Penn Jillette of “Penn & Teller” infamy which will involve Teller and Deadpool swapping places.)  That means it’ll be quite a while before we get to see a proper vol. 2 for this series.  As good as this volume turned out to be, that’s a wait I’m willing to make.