Monthly Archives: October 2016

When is “New” better than “All-New, All-Different?”

When we’re talking about the latest incarnations of “Avengers,” that’s when.  After “All-New, All-Different Avengers vol. 2:  Family Business” I’m starting to think that having Mark Waid split the team into two groups, with the younger members forming the “Champions” and the older ones going on to form their own Avengers team, may not be such a bad idea as far as soft resets go.  While the art from Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar (with Alan Davis pitching in on a short featuring the new Wasp) is as slick as you’d expect, the storytelling is still disappointingly conventional.  In vol. 2 we get a “Standoff” tie-in as the team heads over to Pleasant Hill and locks horns with the Unity team and a trip out into space as they attempt to find Sam “Nova” Alexander’s dad and wind up in an alien gulag.  These stories play out pretty much as you’d expect with no real surprises in the plot.  The “Standoff” tie-in is particularly disappointing since the writer doesn’t seem to be on the same page as crossover mastermind Nick Spencer regarding the human Cosmic Cube/plot device Kobik and her personality.  Still, there are some nice moments amidst all the familiarity:  Vision surprising Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan with a VR Avengers experience, using Deadpool’s memories to save the team, the nega-band-switching frenzy at the climax of the second story, and having the new Wasp team up with the old one was pretty neat.  These things help raise the title to the level of “not bad” but you expect better from a title that bills itself as “All-New, All-Different.”  And from Waid.

Meanwhile, over in “New Avengers:  A.I.M. vol. 2 — Standoff,” writer Al Ewing has that title’s “Standoff’ tie-in arc feature a gamma-powered giant monster known as American Kaiju — as strong as it is patriotic — face off against A.I.M.’s giant robot Avenger Five.  Even without considering the tricky plotting that has A.I.M. head Roberto DaCosta declaring war on an untrustworthy S.H.I.E.L.D., Rick Jones trying to see if he can trust an A.I.M.-backed Avengers team, and two former Thunderbolts whose loyalties can be described as “rock-solid” and “shifty,” it’s clearly the better of the two.  More importantly, writer Al Ewing also manages the always-impressive trick of using a crossover tie-in arc to further the title’s main story.  This arc is preceded by a one-off focusing on the White Tiger and her Hand-resurrected predecessor, with the Maker (A.K.A. Ultimate Reed Richards) pulling the strings.  It’s kind of a downer that exists mainly to set up future stories, but the final issue sends things out on a high note as Wiccan, Hulkling, Suirrel Girl, Songbird, and Hawkeye take on the Plunderer while most of them go on to form their own team and one is revealed as a triple agent.  All of the fun, quirky action in this issue is grounded in the characters’ actions and it winds up being a very entertaining issue as a result.  Though the three artists who contributed to this volume — Marcus To, Gerardo Sandoval, and J. Cassara — aren’t on the same level as Kubert or Asrar, the stronger writing and sheer inventiveness displayed by Ewing here makes this the “Avengers” book you should be reading.

Marvel Previews Picks: January 2017

“Inhumans vs. X-Men” (“IvX”) hasn’t even shipped its first issue yet and already we know what we’ll be getting after the dust settles on that event.  The word is “ResurrXion,” a launch of all-new “X-Men” titles with one eye trained firmly on the past.  Why’s that?  Well, the titles announced so far are “X-Men:  Blue,” “X-Men: Gold,” “Weapon X,” “Generation X,” “Cable,” “Jean Grey,” and “Iceman.”  “Blue” and “Gold” hark back specifically to the names of the team circa the launch of “X-Men” #1 back in the 90’s while “Generation X” was the name of the young team book from the era as well.  I don’t think I need to mention “Cable’s” relevance to the 90’s, though the “Jean Grey” and “Iceman” solo titles are obviously meant to spotlight two of the franchise’s most well-known and longest-surviving (after a fashion) members.  As for “Weapon X,” there was already a series by the same name that had a decent run in the aughts even if it’s not all that well-remembered now.  Judging by the promotional image they’re using for it, the title is going to fill the “X-Force”/dark team book niche in the line.

What to make of all this?  Well, it’s nice to see Marvel getting behind mutants again after years of hearing about how CEO Ike Perlmutter was trying to diminish their appeal behind the scenes due to his ire at Fox having the film/TV rights to them.  As for the whole backward-looking approach to the line, it’s something that seems to have worked out well for DC and their “Rebirth” initiative in both a financial and creative sense.  I’ll start feeling more optimistic about the “creative” part once we find out about the teams being assigned to these books.  I do wonder if this means all of the current X-titles will be cancelled.  If that’s the case, then I guess I’ll just roll my eyes at how they started a new title with a brand new adjective, “Extraordinary,” and it didn’t even last a year and a half.

Oh, and while it’s clear what the “X” in “ResurrXion” is meant to signify, the “O” in the promotional image for the event is actually the insignia for the “Inhumans.”  Which means that they’ll have some role to play in this event as well.  In only one title if Marvel is smart about it.

Monsters Unleashed #1 (of 5):  Going against the trend of heroes fighting each other in Marvel event comics is this one where heroes fight giant monsters!  All we know about these monsters is that they’re huge, are called “Leviathons,” and are being controlled by some unknown force.  It’s a simple premise, but one that sounds just right to fill out a five-issue miniseries.  Cullen Bunn is writing it and Steve McNiven is drawing the first issue, with a different artist on each subsequent one.  Lenil Yu and Adam Kubert (IIRC) are on board for the next couple.  Bunn can be depended to turn in solid work even if he has yet to really hit something I’ve read of his out of the park for me.  However, with the artists announced so far he really doesn’t have to in order to make this series entertaining.  All he has to do is set the stage for guys like McNiven, Yu, and Kubert to go nuts drawing giant monsters.  It’s not rocket science.

Mighty Thor #15:  The “Asgard/Shi’Ar” war begins here!  I don’t think the Asgardians, other than Thor, have had much contact with Marvel’s cosmic characters so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle themselves here.  Even if I’m expecting to find out that the Shi’Ar have gone and bitten off more than they can chew by declaring war on a race of gods.  Surprisingly, the solicitation text implies that this isn’t part of Malekith’s plan to conquer the Ten Realms.  So why are the Shi’Ar attacking and why do they have their sights set on the Goddes of Thunder?  Jason Aaron’s run on “Thor” so far has been pretty great and I’m expecting some good answers to these questions as well as some entertaining space brawls along the way.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #16:  Celebrating 25 years of the character with an extra-sized issue with stories from regular writer Ryan North, and co-creator of the character Will Murray.  I actually had to check to make sure that was right because I thought Squirrel Girl had been around a lot longer than that.  That’s mainly because her initial appearance featured some really dated art and centered around a plot that had her teaming up with Iron Man to defeat Doctor Doom with squirrels.  Something that I thought you could only get away with in the 60’s.  As it turns out that story really did come from 1992, with art and co-plotting from “Spider-Man” co-creator Steve Ditko.  I can imagine that story being savaged by comics fandom in the 90’s, which was probably why it’s taken so long for the character to enjoy her current wave of popularity.

Star Wars:  Doctor Aphra #3:  So it turns out that “Star Wars:  Classified” title from last month’s solicitations was actually the “Doctor Aphra” ongoing that everyone guessed it was.  I’m fine with that, along with seeing Kieron Gillen continuing to write the character he created and work in the “Star Wars” universe.  Actually, I’m behind seeing Gillen write just about anything so this title could’ve been an “Ewoks” ongoing and I’d have bought that too.

All-New X-Men:  Inevitable vol. 3, Extraordinary X-Men vol. 3, Uncanny X-Men vol. 3:  Yes, the third volumes of all these titles are being solicited for January.  All of them have something to offer:  “Inevitable” with the return of the Goblin Queen, “Extraordinary” has the team trying to rescue Colossus from his newfound Horseman of the Apocalypse status, and “Uncanny” features an investigation of the new Hellfire Club.  Normally I’d be excited about getting three new “X-Men”-related collections all at once.  The problem here is that with “ResurrXion” on the horizon, is this the last we’ll see of the stories and creative teams being featured here?  Probably.  Still, while what I’ve read from them so far has been pretty decent, I can’t say that it’s been engaging enough to see the rolling of the dice on a new status quo and creative teams as an inherently bad thing.

Deadpool and the Secret Defenders:  Wow, Marvel really is determined to reprint EVERY Deadpool appearance they have in their library.  That includes his stint on this revolving door team book from the early 90’s.  There’s not even an indication he’s in every issue of this collection even though his name is on the cover.  So if you’re buying it just for that reason then consider yourself warned.

Elektra by Peter Milligan, Larry Hama, and Mike Deodato Jr.:  Collecting the 19-issue series from the mid-90’s.  I haven’t read any issues from this title, so what follows is just speculation on my part.  Milligan has always been a hit-or-miss writer in my book, but when you have him writing for Marvel in this era, on a character who is tricky enough to write for a solo series when you’re not aiming for a “redemption” angle as the solicitation text indicates?  Well, I have a hunch that you can probably chalk this effort up to a “miss.”  Apologies to Hama and Deodato here.  Go check out Milligan’s “Human Target” series instead:  The character will be appearing on “Arrow” in the near future and the original miniseries represents a much better indication of what the writer was capable of at the time.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth vol. 14 — The Exorcist

This volume introduces us to Ashley Strode, an agent of the B.P.R.D. who specializes in exorcisms.  We first meet her as a beginner learning about the practice who then tries to free a child by taking on a demon imprisoned inside a 150-year-old priest.  A few years later, Ashley is taking names and kicking demon ass all by herself as she gets caught up in a decades-old mystery involving missing children in a small town.  These stories appear to be the brainchild of creator Cameron Stewart who, in addition to providing the art for the first story, co-wrote them both.  Ashley’s an appealingly feisty character, particularly in the second story when she goes toe-to-toe with a Marquis of Hell in words and action.  Which is good because even with the exorcism angle these stories come off as pretty standard-issue Mignolaverse fare.  They’ve got some memorable moments — such as showing us what a demon-possessed goat looks like — but nothing to really distinguish themselves from what has come before.  Save for the bright and lively art from Stewart in the first arc and Mike Norton in the second.

Even if the story doesn’t really stand out, “The Exorcist” does manage to distinguish itself in a somewhat dubious manner.  Specifically:  Why the hell are we getting this as the penultimate volume of “B.P.R.D.?”  Had this volume arrived earlier in the “Hell on Earth” cycle, I’d be more inclined to give it a pass as I could assume that Ashley and her demonic encounters would play a larger role in the central plot down the line.  With one more volume to go that looks increasingly unlikely at this point.  So why are we getting it now?  Well, only the second arc was published as part of the ongoing “B.P.R.D.” series.  As the first was originally just a two-part miniseries they needed another story to go along with it in order to get it collected.  Also, the three-issue second arc may have been a necessary tactic to give Mike Mignola and John Arcudi the time they needed to work on the final arc.  Whatever the reason is, “The Exorcist” still reads awkwardly after the build-up to the final conflict in the previous volume.  I imagine that’ll be less so once we get the final volume and can go straight to the main event after this okay bit of filler.

Assassination Classroom vol. 12

We’re on to the next major arc in this series.  I guess you’d call it the “Grim Reaper” arc as it has the students of Class 3-E taking on the assassin of the same name.  Our antagonist for this arc got that title by being kind of assassin you call on when you want someone in his line of work dead.  Aside from having great skill at unarmed combat, he’s a master planner with a disarmingly friendly demeanor — not unlike Class 3-E’s own Nagisa.  Things kick off when the Grim Reaper kidnaps Ms. Vitch after she stormed off following a botched attempt by the students to create friendlier relations between her and Mr. Karasuma.  Being the master assassin that he is, the students are taken captive in short order and used as bait to lure Koro-sensei into a trap.  But hey!  Even if he falls into it, they’ve still got Karasuma to come and bail them out.  Which is a viable plan only if you assume his military training is on par with one of the greatest living assassins.

I know that I should be more excited for this arc than I am.  The problem is that it’s following the established formula for this kind of story so closely that it’s easy to see every beat of the plot coming pages before they actually hit.  We see the Grim Reaper’s superior skills demonstrated right from the start when he introduces himself to the class and leaves them dumbfounded.  He then proceeds to dismantle the students’ attack efforts — with special notice given to how he one-ups the killer technique Nagisa used in the prior arc — with minimal effort.  Koro-sensei’s rescue efforts also happen early enough in the plot to leave you with the expectation that they’ll fail.  Which they do, thanks to the sudden and inevitable betrayal of Ms. Vitch.

If mangaka Yusei Matsui’s plan was to create drama by playing on my sympathies for the character, then he has failed.  That’s because I have NO sympathies for Ms. Vitch.  She’s not as annoying as she was at the time of her debut, but I can only hope her traitorous actions here are just cover for a triple cross to be executed at the arc’s climax.  Then again, it’s equally probable that she is shallow enough to allow her sympathies to be swayed by Karasuma’s all-business approach to their relationship.  This volume isn’t a total loss:  Aside from Matsui’s always-inventive art, I liked seeing Itona’s reaction to being outclassed by the Grim Reaper, Ritsu’s “hacked” persona, and the idea of seeing Karasuma finally get a real chance to show off his badass credentials against a worthy adversary has some promise.  My disappointment with this volume isn’t nearly enough to get me to stop reading the series, though I am expecting it to get its act together for its resolution in the next volume.

Image Previews Picks: January 2017

After a summer of waiting to see who gets killed, the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” came off pretty badly by most accounts.  From the extreme violence of the deaths in the episode, to the allegedly manipulative way in which they were revealed, and the general “misery porn” approach taken to most of the material there, I can understand why people would have a problem with it.

Not me, though.  I was actually amused by how the producers held off on the reveal of the deaths.  Their trolling of the fanbase by making them wait just a little longer to find out who died amused me when I thought about all of the people who were losing their minds at this.  As for the deaths themselves, all I have to say is this:  Well played.  I have a friend at work who was convinced that Abraham was going to die, while I stuck to my guns and believed that Glenn was going to meet his maker here just like he did in the comics.  It was quite shocking to find out that we were BOTH right, and that the producers had treated Abraham’s death in the comics at an earlier point than this as a savings bond of murder to be cashed in at the appropriate time.  Then you had the look of sheer terror and hopelessness on Rick’s face as it looked like he was going to have to chop Carl’s arm off…  Well, that was some incredible acting from Andrew Lincoln, who had the difficult job of depicting Rick “breaking” over the course of the episode and sold it in a heartbreaking fashion.

Still, I think the comics did this whole sequence better and it comes down to one thing.  The promise of a way out.  When Negan made his presence known to Rick’s group and killed off Glenn in the process, it was a devastating moment in the comics.  You really felt that things were hopeless for them and this new villain had them over a barrell.  Then Eugene comes up to Rick at the end of the volume and reveals that he knows how to make ammo.  Which means they’ve got a way to fight back and that hope is not entirely lost.  With the TV show, the ammo reveal has already been done, so it looks like we’re in for several episodes of Rick getting used to being Negan’s bitch — undoubtedly involving some deliciously black humor courtesy of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s pitch-perfect take on the character — before the fightback begins.

As for the comics, “The Whisperer War” wraps up in these solicitations.  I’ve already heard that there’s been one significant casualty in its pages so far.  Now I just have to avoid finding out who it is before the collection arrives.

Curse Words #1:  A wizard has shown up in New York City and is making life radical for everyone!  The only problem is that he’s actually an EVIL wizard and he’s just setting up his EVIL plan for conquest!  This new series comes to us courtesy of Ryan Browne, who previously gave us “God Hates Astronauts” and sounds like the perfect person to serve up this premise in an absurd, tongue-in-cheek way.  However, he’s just providing the art.  Charles Soule is writing it.  While Soule isn’t a bad writer by any means, he’s never really struck me as the person who can let his imagination run riot in the same way that Browne has done with “GHA.”  Best case scenario is that we get something where Soule goes full-tilt into the soap-operatic ridiculousness of his own “Letter 44” and Browne takes us the rest of the way with his art.  The creators have done enough good stuff over the years that I’m inclined to pick up the first volume to see if that scenario pans out.

God Country #1:  Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw, writer and artist for “The Paybacks,” step away from superhero comedy to give us the story of an old man suffering from dementia in Texas.  His violent outbursts make life hard on everyone around him, so when a tornado levels his home it would seem that everyone’s problems have been solved.  Not quite.  The storm deposited a magic sword that has left the man with a clear mind, and the ability to fight off the monsters that are now being drawn to the blade.  I was happy to hear that “The Paybacks” was picked up by Heavy Metal and is currently in the middle of its second miniseries.  However, it clearly wasn’t selling well enough to keep Cates and Shaw from trying a new series to find bigger success.  This setup doesn’t sound bad, but it comes off as a whole lot more generic than the premise for the title that helped make their name.  Speaking of which…

Dante (One-Shot):  Take a shot for every trope you can spot in this setup:  The title character is a family man, who is also an assassin, and he wants out of the business.  He’s then betrayed and accidentally kills an Asian kid, an act which curses him with tattoos.  Now he has to solve this mystery, get revenge, and find his now-missing family.  I liked writer Matt Hawkins’ work on “Think Tank,” but the solicitation text makes it sound like he came up with this premise by filling out some “Mad Libs.”  It’s going to look great, because Darick Robertson is providing the art, even though the artists deserves better than this.

The Black Monday Murders vol. 1:  All Hail, God Mammon:  Even though I picked up the first issue of this series (in order to make use of a discount coupon from ComiXology), I haven’t bought any more.  That’s not because I didn’t like what I read, but because the first volume is going to be a mammoth 240-page collection.  While the solicitations have promised that there was going to be exclusive material for the individual issues, the charts writer Jonathan Hickman provided didn’t really strike me as really necessary to the story.  So I’ll be trade-waiting on this story of high finance and higher sorcery.

Kill or Be Killed vol. 1:  The latest from Brubaker and Phillips is their deconstruction of vigilantism by way of a man who feels compelled to kill bad people.  I don’t really have much to add beyond that.  “From Brubaker and Phillips” is as solid a recommendation as you can get in my book.  Especially after their return to form with “The Fade Out.”

Renato Jones:  The One %, Season One:  A vigilante for our times.  The title character is out to make the titans of big business pay for their misdeeds in bloody and demented fashion.  I’m all for that.  While I haven’t had that many encounters with creator Kaare Andrews’ artwork, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.  This will be my first time reading anything he’s written himself and I’m optimistic given that it sounds like it would be pretty hard to screw up a title where its protagonist goes around killing all the rich people who have it coming.

The Autumnlands vol. 2:  Woodland Creatures:  Now here’s something I’ve been waiting for.  The best new Image title from last year finally gets a new volume.  All the solicitation text tells us is that the Great Champion — actually Master Sgt. Steven Learoyd, formerly of a military sci-fi universe, currently part of this magical talking-animal universe — and young dog-wizard Dusty are stranded in the mountains where they encounter a colorful cast of characters and secrets that may help them save the world.  Not the clearest picture of where this volume is going to go, but I don’t mind.  The worldbuilding and characterization from writer Kurt Busiek were so solid that I’m looking forward to just getting more of that, along with Benjamin Dewey’s fantastic art, come January.

Chew vol. 12:  Sour Grapes:  The final volume.  With the buildup as good as the title has ever been, I’m expecting great things from this finale.  Which also contains the final Poyo story in “Demon Chicken Poyo.”  I may be worried for how things will turn out for Tony Chew at the end of this volume, but I think everyone’s favorite cyborg chicken is going to do just fine even if he’s stuck running Hell after having chased the Devil out.

Thief of Thieves vol. 6:  Gold Rush:  In which master thief Conrad Paulson encounters some thieves who may be as good as he is.  While the story will likely be about having him show these people why he’s the best there is at what he does, I’m actually a little concerned about that.  Vol. 5 gave us a Conrad that put his arrogance and self-centeredness front-and-center in the narrative.  This suggests that, rather than a series of breezily enjoyable crime capers, the series going forward will focus on the master thief getting what he deserves.  If that’s the direction writer Andy Diggle will be going in, then I’m not sure if I’ll be following this series after this volume.  Unless my sister likes it — she couldn’t get enough of the first few volumes.

DC Previews Picks: January 2017

Are we in the middle of a Wild Dog renaissance?  The character was originally created by writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty in the 80’s as a Punisher-esque urban vigilante.  History doesn’t seem to indicate that the comics he appeared in during the time could actually be described as “good,” but there was apparently a certain over-the-top 80’s action movie appeal to the character and his adventures that endeared him to a certain part of comics fandom.  And Gerard Way.  And the producers of “Arrow.”  So not only has the character made his TV debut in the current season of “Arrow,” Wild Dog returned to comics proper in the first issue of “Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye” this week, which is part of Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC.

I don’t think the comics readership has been crying out for a Wild Dog revival.  However, the character’s recent appearances are likely down to two opposing schools of thought.  There’s the idea that every character in comics is someone’s favorite, which allows for seeing him show up in “Cave Carson.”  It seems unlikely that he’d have appeared if Way, or co-writer Jon Rivera, didn’t have some fondness for the character.  As for “Arrow?”  I’m betting that they needed a generic vigilante-type character that didn’t have a whole lot of history and Wild Dog fit the bill.  Whether or not this leads to a new mini-or-ongoing series featuring Wild Dog, it’s certainly possible if the character continues to make appearances in both mediums.  That being said, I certainly hope someone at DC remembers to pay Beatty the proper residuals for co-creating the character.

The Kamandi Challenge #1 (of 12):  A long time ago (back before I was born) Jack Kirby gave us “Kamandi:  The Last Boy On Earth” and also wrote and illustrated more than half of the 59 issues it ran for during the mid-to-late 70’s.  Somewhat less long ago (back when I was six), “DC Challenge” was published.  It was a twelve-issue series that had a different creative team for each issue.  The reason for this was that the team in each issue would set up an impossible cliffhanger for the new team to solve for the subsequent issue.  Why am I bringing both of these up?  Well, DC has decided to combine them both to give us “The Kamandi Challenge.”  Dan Abnett and Dan Didio are writing the first issue with Dale Eaglesham, Keith Giffen, and Scott Koblish providing the art.  It’s certainly an imaginative gimmick and I’m wondering why it took the company so long to give it another go.  Then again, “DC Challenge” has yet to be reprinted so maybe there’s a reason for it.  If this does turn out to be a creative and commercial success, then you can probably look forward to “The Batman Challenge” next year.

All-Star Batman #6:  Scott Snyder moves on to a Mr. Freeze-centric arc with Jock providing the art.  While the word is great about the opening Two-Face arc in this series, there is legitimate reason for concern in my book about seeing Snyder tackle Victor Fries again.  While I genuinely love most of the writer’s “Batman” work, the first annual he co-wrote with James Tynion IV is a black mark on both of their resumes.  That’s because they came up with the “genius” idea of removing the tragedy from Fries’ character and turning him into a straight-up crazy person by having “Nora Fries” not be his wife, but a woman in cryo-stasis he became obsessed over.  I’m not thrilled by the idea of digging further into this, but maybe since Snyder will be flying solo as a writer here we’ll get better results.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 (of 6):  DC is really becoming more prolific when it comes to putting out crossovers involving their superheroes these days.  Anyway, I’m willing to write this one off as something you should already know is for you or not.  I’ll be saving my money for the next “Batman/TMNT” crossover since the first go-round there was pretty decent.

Batman:  Detective Comics vol. 1 — Rise of the Batmen:  This may collect the first issues in James Tynion IV’s run on “Detective Comics,” but you shouldn’t think of this as the Caped Crusader’s “other” solo book.  By all accounts this is a team book that features Batman, Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, and… Clayface?  Yes, it appears that one of Batman’s longstanding rogues is part of his new outfit as well.  The explanation behind that has me curious, along with some of the word-of-mouth that’s calling this “the best ‘X-Men’ book on the stands.”  …There’s going to be a lot to make sense of when I get my hands on this volume, isn’t there?

Wonder Woman vol. 1:  The Lies:  The first volume of Greg Rucka’s return to the title.  Guess I’ve got a timeframe for picking up the first volume of his previous run on “Wonder Woman.”

Future Quest vol. 1:  Jeff Parker gives us “The League of Extraordinary Hanna-Barbara Characters!”  He’s got a solid reputation for delivering fun superhero stories, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with this eclectic cast featuring everyone from Johnny Quest, to Space Ghost, to Harvey Birdman (in his pre-law years, I’m assuming).  Also, I’m assuming that no one takes on an assignment like this unless they’ve got some affinity for the characters involved.  Which means we shouldn’t expect Parker to be phoning it in here.

Kid Eternity Book One:  I’m honestly surprised we’re finally getting a collection of this series after all these years.  The title character was someone who could raise any dead person with a word (“ETERNITY!”) and got a pre-Vertigo mature readers makeover courtesy of Grant Morrison and Duncan Fegredo.  Then, when Vertigo launched a couple years later, we got this ongoing series from writer Ann Nocenti and artist Sean Phillips.  It wasn’t all that successful and lasted only a year and a half, never to be heard from again until now.  As for why DC’s collecting the first half of the series, it could be down to the work Nocenti has done for them in recent years and Phillips’ own increased profile via his work on “Marvel Zombies” and with Ed Brubaker.  However, there’s a more interesting reason to consider:  In “The Art of Sean Phillips” the artist is quoted as saying that even though “Kid Eternity” was selling 100k an issue, it was still considered to be a sales disappointment.  Yes, selling 100k of a comic was “cancellation zone” territory for some comics in the 90’s.  It was a helluva time.  That still meant a lot of people read this series, so it’s possible we’ve reached the point where DC thinks that reprinting any comic from this era is worth a shot to see if the people who read it the first time around want it on their shelves in a proper collection.  Then again, if that were true we’d have the entirety of “Shade the Changing Man” reprinted by now.  I’m still just the tiniest bit bitter about that.

Rest In Peace, Steve Dillon

You just never know when it’s going to happen or to whom.  Comics lost a master of the form today in Steve Dillon.  The exact cause of his death hasn’t been revealed yet, but he was only 54.  While he was best known in the U.S. for collaborating with Garth Ennis on “Hellblazer,” “Preacher,” and “Punisher” starting in the 90’s, he was already a legend in the U.K. for his work on many titles there, particularly “2000 A.D.” the home of “Judge Dredd” and numerous other titles.  Currently he was enjoying another victory lap on the Becky Cloonan-written “Punisher” series and providing the covers to Ennis’ latest “Sixpack & Dogwelder:  Hard Travelin’ Heroz” miniseries.

For me, there was no one better at portraying convincing human emotion in comics.  Dillon may not have had the most detailed linework, or make the supernatural look convincingly unreal, but his characters emoted on the page in a way that was always believable.  Whether it was John Constantine’s disaffected cigarette-smoking face, Jesse Custer’s shit-eating grin, or Frank Castle’s ever-present scowl that let you know he was already over whatever was coming his way, Dillon knew how to sum up a character with his art.  You could tell what kind of person they were just from the look he had put on their face, and even a little of what they were thinking too.

That was never more clear than in one of my all-time favorite comic panels.  *Spoilers for “Preacher vol. 7:  Alamo” follow, natch.*  In the final volume of “Preacher,” Tulip finally comes face-to-face with Starr who charges at her while firing his gun only to run out of bullets.  The entire sequence is a masterful bit of action and drama as we see Starr go completely over the edge in a way that we haven’t seen until now.  Looking at it again, I also notice how Starr’s rampage even catches Tulip off-guard in a way that has her concerned that she’s not going to make it through this.  It’s essentially written on her face, you see.

But the bit that always stuck with me is the one right after we see Starr run out of ammo.  In that panel, Tulip gets this look of utter demonic glee on her face.  It’s this look that says, “You’re an asshole who has done so much bad shit in his life, to me, my friends, and who knows how many other people.  Now you’re out of ammo, and I’m going to enjoy making you pay for it.”  Well, that’s what it said to me at least.  That look Tulip had on her face has stuck with me ever since because I’d never seen such intense emotion crammed into one panel before or since.

For now, I’ve still got that upcoming volume of the latest “Punisher” series to look forward to when it comes to seeing his latest art.  After that, then I’ll just have to look backward if I want more of his work in my library.  Dillon collaborated a lot with Daniel Way at Marvel on “Wolverine:  Origins” and “Thunderbolts” to an uneven extent.  Then there’s his long history in the U.K. which I haven’t even scratched the surface of.  Surprisingly, what appears to be a rather violent “Doctor Who” spinoff that he illustrated, “Abslom Daak,” has also been brought up in the retrospectives I’ve been reading.  It’s not something I’d have considered giving a shot before, but with Dillon’s work as an artist now a finite resource I think I’ll give it a shot.  Even if the writing and story are crap, I’m sure it’ll still look good with more emotional depth than its title would indicate.  You could always count on these things from Dillon.

The Wicked + The Divine vol. 4: Rising Action

This latest volume in the series has a lot of the things that have made it a terrifically entertaining read so far.  You’ve got amazing art from Jamie McKelvie in full-blown spectacle mode as two factions of the Pantheon repeatedly face off against each other here.  While his character work is as good as you’d expect, here he brings the action with several intense, fast-paced, multiple-viewpoint fight scenes whose high point comes when Persephone uses her green tentacle — er, tendril powers to take on Woden’s giant neon Valkyrie/Voltron amalgamation monstrosity.  We also get lots of clever, funny, and insightful dialogue from Kieron Gillen while the fighting is going on.  Even when his characters ramble on about “higher frequency geek” it’s still entertaining to read what they have to say.  While the nature of the conflict in this volume does lend itself to lots of pithy one-liners, there’s also a substantial amount of advancements and twists to the plot.  Seeing what really went down when Ananke did her head-popping thing with Laura/Persephone was certainly a surprising retcon, while the status quo we get at the end of the volume has a nice air of ominousness to go along with the freedom it promises.

All of this makes “Rising Action” another worthy addition to this particular canon.  Which makes its one major narrative failing that much more annoying.  I’ll admit that part of this is down to my own set of expectations regarding the writer.  Gillen is usually very good about subverting existing cliches and tropes, or at least displaying enough self-awareness to make them come off as less annoying.  Which is why it’s so disappointing to have Pantheon ringleader Ananke fall right into the role of the antagonist who does awful things for reasons that she believes are perfectly valid but declines to provide any explanations for.  Yes, the fact that there’s this thing known as the Great Darkness that needs to be kept at bay sure sounds important, but aside from providing no explanation as to what it is, we get no explanation regarding why exploding the heads of teenage deities is necessary to stave it off.  Aside from Ananke’s declaration that “HELL IS YOU CHILDREN FOREVER!” I mean.

My frustration with this opaque plotting on Gillen’s part will remain until we get some kind of explanation that causes the entire cast to realize their elderly overseer was right and that they need to do something about it.  At which time the writer will (Likely?  Hopefully?) make a hard left from my expectations in showing us what the cast does.  Until then, I think I’ll be able to make do with seeing the cast continue to party as hard as they have been.

Happiness vol. 1

Hey, guess what I forgot to post on Monday…

Makoto Okazaki has it rough.  Now, I’m not talking about how he has to deal with the bullies who have made him into their gopher, or how he has to deal with all of his pent-up adolescent sexual urges by himself.  I’m saying he has it rough because he’s the male protagonist in a new manga from Shuzo Oshimi, who gave us “The Flowers of Evil,” and it looks like her thing is putting these guys through hell at the hands strange women.  In Okazaki’s case, at least he’s not at the mercy of a potential psychotic.  He just winds up getting bitten by a female vampire on his way to return a rented video one night.  Now Okazaki has to deal with the wearying effects of the sun, abnormal strength and a thirst he doesn’t know how to quench just yet.

Oshimi’s looks to be more interested in vampirism’s transformative effect on normal life than as a springboard to supernatural action.  Those of you expecting something along the lines of “Twilight” or “30 Days of Night” will likely come away disappointed.  A better comparison would be Park Chan-Wook’s “Thirst,” where an ordinary man was infected, then went on to infect his wife and watch his life unravel form there.  The same thing happens to Okazaki, as he’s thrown completely off-balance by his new reaction to sunlight and his reaction to the blood he can now sense from his female classmates.  Even though he’s able to finally stand up to those bullies, it brings him no satisfaction.  All of this just takes him further away from the person he was, and that’s the most unsettling part of this business for him.

It’s because of this approach that I can forgive Oshimi for playing loose with one of the key aspects of vampire myth.  Also, we’d have no story if Okazaki was burnt into ash the minute he stepped out the door on his first day back to school.  I’m also curious to see how long he’ll be able to go denying his thirst as it has already led to one problematic scene where a girl he near-assaults turns out to be remarkably forgiving of his circumstances.  Oshimi also demonstrates some real growth as an artist as we see her build on the nightmarish psychedelic approach she demonstrated in the final chapter of “The Flowers of Evil.”  Compared to that title, “Happiness” is off to a much stronger start by making its protagonist’s fears credible and exploring some less-well-trod ground in the vampire story genre along the way.