Monthly Archives: October 2016

Trees vol. 2: Two Forests

That we currently have two ongoing series from Warren Ellis after years of miniseries and other short projects from the writer is kind of remarkable.  Unfortunately, it’s clear with this second volume of “Trees” that “Injection” is clearly the stronger of the two.  Fourteen issues into this series and it still has yet to fully click in a way that has me anticipating the (promised) third volume.  As the title implies, there are two main threads in this volume:  The first has biologist Jo Creasy, the sole survivor of the events in the Arctic from vol. 1, being recruited by the British government to investigate the Tree in the Orkney Isles and find out if they have anything to fear from it.  As for the other, it involves the new mayor-elect of New York City, identified only as Vince, and his efforts to get some justice done regarding the police who opened fire on unarmed civilians as they tried to secure the downtown city waterfront the day the Trees came down.  That, and deal with the increasing demands of the “constituency” who helped him get elected.

Jo’s storyline should be more interesting than it is, given that she’s directly investigating the Trees.  The problem there is that remarkably little progress is made towards deciphering their mystery by the end.  Before things wrap up we’re treated to some intriguing notions about the necessity of keeping the public in the dark regarding information about the Trees.  They’re intriguing in the way that they make sense even as they come from a government that can be best described as “sinisterly benign.”  Between Jo’s investigation and interactions with the government, we get to see how she puts up with the daffy members of the archaeological dig near the Orkney Tree.  They’re clearly meant to be comic relief, of which I’ve seen better.  Worse, too.

Vince’s efforts to navigate the political/crime quagmire he has deliberately waded into in New York represent a real missed opportunity in my opinion.  There’s no denying that it’s interesting, and even compelling when the bullets start flying, to see the mayor-elect manipulate the police commissioner and the criminals who helped him get elected to achieve the resolution he wants.  The problem is that this scenario is completely one-sided.  We never see the events of the day, with Vince’s description being our only account of it.  While the actions of the police certainly sound horrific, there’s no attempt to provide their side of the story or any kind of perspective from law enforcement beyond that offered by the commissioner.  Who, I might add, just denies giving such an order or being aware of the events in question.  All this seems as if Ellis was trying to tap into our nation’s current unrest (to put it mildly) regarding law enforcement and wanted to write a story where its bad apples got what was coming to them.  It never quite works because we don’t know enough about these officers to either fully hate them for the actions they took, or feel sympathy for them at being placed in an impossible situation.

Jason Howard is back to provide the art for this volume.  As I said before, while his style isn’t what I’d call “exciting” it still gets the job done with emotive characters that help further engage the readers with the story.  What struck me about his work this time is how well he nails the “near-future” aesthetic of the series.  From the futuristic-looking cars, radar-resistant fabrics, and omnipresent drone technology, Howard really makes it feel like this series is set not too far off from our own.  It’s a small detail, but one that always furthered my interest when I saw this tech in action.

Though the mystery of the Trees is at the center of this series, it’s clear that Ellis isn’t in a rush to solve it.  With vol. 2 his emphasis appears to be on telling interconnected stories set in their shadow.  Hence the title of the first volume (*rimshot*).  That’s not a bad agenda to have for a series.  For it to work, however, you need to have more compelling stories or genuine energy to the uncovering of the mystery.  Both of which are lacking here.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: January 2017

Dark Horse’s publication of videogame related artbooks continues apace in this month’s solicitations with The Art of Mass Effect:  Andromeda.  “Andromeda” is the first game in the series after the original trilogy and will take the player out of the known universe to set up a colony in the Andromeda system.  While I’ll definitely be picking up the game, I’ll probably be giving a pass on the artbook.  However, I am grateful for its existence as the original solicitation text for this book mentioned that it’ll be published simultaneously with the game on March 21, 2017.  That bit of text has since been removed, but given that the game was delayed to the first quarter of 2017 this date still seems pretty likely.  So to whoever screwed up there, thanks!

Also in “Mass Effect”-related comics solicitations:  The series jumps on the current adult coloring book craze with one of its own.  I’m even less interested in this than the artbook.  That said, I have to give the person who wrote the solicitation text credit for invoking one of the more (in)famous lines from the series with, “I’M COMMANDER SHEPARD, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE COLORING BOOK ON THE CITADEL!”  Well said, sir.

Black Hammer vol. 1:  Secret Origins:  On one hand, you could take the story of this new series from writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dean Ormston on an entirely surface level.  It involves old superheroes who were banished from the universe they knew by a crisis of infinite proportions who now live peaceful lives in a timeless farming town.  Everything’s good until someone shows up with the promise of bringing them all back for one last adventure.  This is a solid enough setup, even though Ormston’s involvement means this is likely to tilt more towards the creepier side of Lemire’s writing.  Now, on the other hand, you could interpret this story as a narrative metaphor for what happens when superheroes are written out of continuity and the fun/trouble that ensues when someone decides to bring them back.  That’s the story I’m more interested in reading about.  The heroes may be living in a small farming town, but I’ll be plowing their narrative for subtext when I pick this up.

B.P.R.D.:  Hell on Earth vol. 15 — Cometh the Hour:  An ominous title, no?  This is the final volume of “B.P.R.D.” and we’re told that the organization is focused on stopping the tide of monsters being released from the Ogdru Jahad from destroying their headquarters — and the world!  Meanwhile, the head of the organization’s Russian counterpart, Director Nichayko, appears to have sealed his fate by attempting to bargain with the little demon vampire girl Varvara.  If we’re lucky, only Nichayko will wind up dying horribly because of his actions and they won’t have any effect on the larger conflict.  I’m probably kidding myself with the last part, unless the director has a plan.  Even if he does, I’m worried because the first part of it involves him getting drunk on vodka and letting Varvara out.  So either he’s got a really great plan involving lots of misdirection, or the final page of this volume will show us that EVERYONE has died at the end.  While that may be a real possibility, I still can’t wait to see how this volume is going to turn out.

Briggs Land vol. 1:  State of Grace:  Even before the first issue of this series hit the stands, it was being pushed with the announcement that it was being developed as a series for AMC.  Dark Horse has continued to push that line with each successive issue, and now the first trade paperback, though I have yet to hear of any significant movement regarding the television future of this series.  Not that it doesn’t sound like it’d make for a great TV show:  When the head of the largest anti-government secessionist movement in the U.S. is incarcerated, his wife wrests control of the organization from him.  Now she has to deal with the blowback from inside the movement, and the attention her actions have drawn from the FBI.  Brian Wood is writing, and he knows a thing or two about anti-government movements after his time with “DMZ.”  Even if this winds up being just a comic, it still sounds like a good one.

Hellboy Winter Special 2017:  Are more “Hellboy”-related short stories never not a good thing?  This time around we get shorts involving Edward “Witchfinder” Gray teaming up with the heroine of the recent “Rise of the Black Flame” mini for a caper in London of the 1890’s, Hellboy, Liz, and Abe in 1980’s New England looking for some missing kids, and a story featuring Hellboy in the 50’s.  That last one appears to be the most relevant to the ongoing slate of Mignolaverse titles as it’s advertised as leading into the next “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” series.  It also features art from Paul Grist of “Kane” and “Jack Staff” fame.  So if he’s illustrating the next miniseries, that’ll be great.  Not as great as a new “Kane” miniseries, but it’ll still be interesting to see how he interprets Hellboy and his world.

Henchgirl:  Dark Horse has a long history of picking up titles that were previously self-published by their creators or from small press operations.  This collection falls in the latter category, and it’s got a fun premise:  Mary Posa is stuck in a dead-end job where her co-workers are jerks and her boss doesn’t appreciate her.  What is this job?  Being a supervillain’s henchgirl.  She doesn’t want to do this for the rest of her life, but how do you extricate yourself from this line of work?  I’m curious, and the fact that this collection’s 304 pages can be had for $18 mean that it’s going to be pretty cost-effective for me to find out.

The Manara Library vol. 1:  Indian Summer and Other Stories:  I’m well aware of Manara’s reputation as a legendary artist who loves to illustrate eros, but the only full-length story I own featuring his work is “The Borgias.”  That’s mainly because it’s a collaboration with Alejandro Jodorowsky that I found for half-price last year at WonderCon.  Dark Horse has been publishing Manara’s complete works in hardcover, but the $60 cover price per volume is prohibitive by my standards.  Now, they’re publishing “The Manara Library” in softcover at $30 a volume and I’m a lot more amenable to getting my hands on these volumes thanks to that lower price.

Slayer:  Repentless #1 (of 3):  The legendary thrash metal band gets their own comic after all these years, and it’s about…  Well, I couldn’t tell you from these solicitations.  All they say is that this comic is based on the videos from the band’s latest album, also titled “Repentless,” and features, “a raging road trip down a bloodstained highway, a tale of the doomed, the damned . . . and the repentless!”  So maybe this will be the equivalent of “The Devil’s Rejects” in comic book form.  I wouldn’t mind reading that.  Art comes from “Conan” artist Guiu Villanova, and it’s written by Jon Schnepp who has some interesting credits — “Metalocalypse,” “The Venture Brothers,” “The Death of Superman Lives” — for someone who’s writing a comic based on a Slayer album.  Then again, capturing the spirit of a band or its music in comic form is usually a very dicey proposition unless your name is Kieron Gillen.  Probably best not to expect too much from this if only so we can be pleasantly surprised when it clears that low bar.

Head Lopper vol. 1: The Island or A Plague of Beasts

This is what happens when have a creator who clearly loves “Conan” but doesn’t want to actually do an official story featuring the character.  Instead, creator Andrew MacLean gives us a burly, irascible, white-bearded master swordsman who carries around the severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch, and bears the nickname “Head Lopper” for his done-in-one fighting style.  He prefers to be called Norgal, thank you very much.  If the fact that he carries around the severed — and very conversational — head of a blue witch didn’t clue you in to the fact that he has led a colorful and adventurous life, the story from this volume will drive that home for you.  Here, Norgal announces his arrival in the island realm of Barra by cutting off the head of the sea serpent that guards the port of its biggest city.  This attracts the attention of numerous parties, including the island’s queen who asks that he kill the Sorcerer of the Black Bog who is responsible for the plague of beasts upon the island.  Norgal agrees and soon finds that he is in for a great deal more trouble than he initially signed on for.

The four issues of “Head Lopper” collected in this volume are just a little unusual compared to most other comics being serialized today.  They were extra-sized 64-page issues released on a quarterly basis.  MacLean does a great job of camouflaging that fact in the story as it’s broken up into smaller chapters and reads smoothly throughout its 200-plus pages.  Your enjoyment of this story, however, will hinge upon two things:  the first being whether or not you like sword and sorcery stories in general, and the second being whether or not you can appreciate someone trying to do “Conan” on their own terms.  I’ll admit that using Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian as a point of comparison might be a bit unfair to MacLean here, but the fact remains that whenever you’ve got a creator telling a story about a burly, nigh-invulnerable swordsman mixing it up with mythical monsters and unscrupulous magicians such a comparison becomes implicit if not invited.

So it’s good that MacLean’s style works well here with his clean, straightforward style lending itself well to the action.  Whether Norgal is mixing it up with wolves more than thrice his size, taking on evil gods, or finding out the limits of steel, the action is always absorbing and eye-catching on the page.  We also get plenty of good banter between the swordsman and Agatha throughout the volume.  The nature of the curse that binds them may be ill-defined here, but it’s hard to imagine the story without her acerbic, acidic banter to go along with his action.  Which is good because this first volume of “Head Lopper” doesn’t offer any fresh spins on the sword and sorcery genre with its tale of a wizard that needs killing and the burly swordsman who’s man enough to do the job.  MacLean, however, is man enough to bring his own distinct style to this story and make it an entertaining romp in the process.  Now that he’s done this, I’d rather see more of the Head Lopper’s adventures than the creator tackle “Conan” proper.

Black Road vol. 1: The Holy North

Brian Wood wrote seven volumes about vikings, Norsemen, and other denizens of Northern Europe in “Northlanders” with only one real dud among them.  (That would be the misguided supernatural fantasy of “Metal.”)  Even if it’s not an official continuation, fans of that series can essentially think of this series as vol. 8.  All of the hallmarks of that series are here:  A gruff lone wolf protagonist forced to interact with a society he doesn’t understand/trust, an increasing Christian presence as they convert these pagan lands, and literal gut-wrenching violence.  The protagonist this time out is one Magnus the Black.  He’s a veteran warrior who lost his wife in an attack on his village years ago and now makes his way from town to town acting as a guide, sword for hire, or both for whoever has the coin.  This time around, it’s the Vatican who want him to escort a cardinal up the title road.  The journey starts off easy enough, but Magnus soon finds out that a very powerful man wants this cardinal dead.  It also turns out that the man of the cloth is also harboring a secret himself:  a guardian angel who is willing to go to the ends of the Earth to see his will carried out.

This volume, and I assume the rest of the series, carries the subtitle “A Magnus the Black” mystery.  I don’t know if it was Wood, artist Garry Brown, or someone at Image who came up with it, but I’d suggest any potential reader just disregard that.  It sets up some expectations that the title doesn’t really live up to.  While there is a mystery involving just what an exiled bishop is up to in these parts, Magnus isn’t really much of a detective.  He’s an interesting protagonist in how he tempers his brutality with street smarts, though not much of a detective.  Particularly in the way that he finds himself at least one step behind everyone else in this story.  Still, even if the mystery part of this story isn’t all that solid, Wood still manages to deliver an engaging story of people carving their own way though the harsh and unforgiving climate of the north.  Brown does a lot of the heavy lifting there as his rough and jagged art really helps to sell the struggle of these characters.  The story is incomplete with this volume, but in addition to fans of “Northlanders” I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a good viking story in comics, or fans of “Vinland Saga” to keep them occupied while waiting for vol. 8 in December.

A Bride’s Story vol. 8

The fact that the previous volume of this series happened to be a disappointing read was bad enough.  It stung even more when you consider that new volumes of “A Bride’s Story” only come out on an annual basis.  So I’ve basically spent most of the last ten months worrying that this great series had lost the thread and would only continue to disappoint from here on out.  Vol. 8 is certainly a step back in the right direction, but we’ve got to deal with a bit of a hangover first.

By that I mean mangaka Kaoru Mori gives us one final chapter with Anis and Sherine to wrap up their story.  We get to see more of their life together as Avowed Sisters and find out that the former is truly happy with this arrangement.  That’s all well and good, but there’s still remarkably little substance to this arrangement.  Anis is happy because the plot dictates that she be that way, and that’s all there is to it.  Anyone hoping for greater insight into their relationship, or even some kind of acknowledgement of the yuri/lesbian subtext that permeates the story is going to come away disappointed.  Instead, I’ll just try to find some entertainment in the little details from this whole arc.  Such as the way that Sherine can pack away any amount of food in front of her in a way that I, and most other men, can only envy.

Then things move back to Amir and Karluk’s village for the rest of the volume.  They’re not the focus of the story, even though we get a nice little vignette about their lunch date on the plains.  Taking the center stage from here on out is Amir’s friend Pariya.  The last time we saw her, she had finally met a potential husband who she liked and who wasn’t put off by her brash personality.  However, after the attack on the village back in vol. 6, her dowry of embroidered fabrics for the impending marriage was destroyed.  This means that until they can be replaced, the marriage is on hold.  Unfortunately, Pariya has no talent for sewing.  So it’s a good thing she’s got the backing of Amir and her family to help her out with this.

In case it wasn’t obvious before, vol. 8 makes a point of showing that Pariya is as tsundere as they come.  If you’re not familiar with that word, it’s a Japanese term describing a person who is outwardly brash and standoffish but is secretly tender and sensitive on the inside.  With regards to Pariya, she also has a hefty case of self-defeatism to contend with as well.  In stark contrast to the previous arc, Mori actually digs into Pariya’s history and mindset to show us why she is this way.  As a result, the character’s struggles feel real and not subject to the dictates of the plot.

They’re also pretty engaging to take in as well.  We see every facet of Pariya’s efforts to become a decent embroiderer, from the problems with her initial efforts, to the temptations to take the easy way out, all the way to the pride she feels at a job well done.  There’s also some amusing comic relief as Amir’s grandmother serves as a specter — both real and imagined — that drives Pariya on to do her best.

The business with embroidery is followed by a town visit from Pariya’s betrothed and his father.  We get to see her making some inroads into acting like a proper (for the period) woman in front of him, only for it to appear to be undone when he witnesses her displaying some tomboyish behavior while helping others clean the irrigation ditches.  This leads to a chapter that is mostly a comedy of errors as Pariya goes around town spying on Kamola, a girl everyone respects and admires, in order to get some idea about how to be a better version of herself.  Such stalker-ish behavior ultimately backfires on her, but with a decidedly welcome outcome.

I’m kind of torn about this part of the story because Pariya’s actions here aren’t really out of character.  The problem is that it feels like Mori is playing up her anxious and defeatist tendencies for purposes of comedy relief more than anything else.  So they wind up feeling strident rather than funny more often than not here.  You could also argue that the ending does feel a bit forced in light of Pariay’s hyperactivity in this part of the story, but I was mostly glad that things ended well for her after how she tormented herself through most of it.

If anything, I was disappointed by the fact that we didn’t learn much more about her betrothed, Umar.  It’s clear that he’s a decent guy who likes her, and is good with an abacus, but that’s about it.  I think it’s nice that Mori has created a character who exists to fall in love with the most troubled individual in the series.  That’s about it, though.  It’s hard to have any real feelings or interest in him when he basically exists as a cipher in the narrative.

Definitely a step in the right direction, but “A Bride’s Story” isn’t back to its usual quality just yet.  After an entire volume where she had characters following the dictates of the plot, it appears that Mori hasn’t quite shaken off that tendency here.  Still, there’s enough decent character development here to suggest that she’ll get around to addressing the issues I have here eventually.  I’d also be remiss in not pointing out that the volume’s art is up to the title’s typically high standards, particularly with the bits involving embroidery.  I’m expecting a year-long wait for vol. 9.  This time around, I’ll be feeling a lot more optimistic about its quality than I did when I was waiting for vol. 8.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vol. 1

Yes, I’m just as surprised as you that we’re only getting this now as opposed the Turtles’ heyday in the 90’s.  That may be a good thing.  Can you imagine how this crossover would’ve read during that era where it was style at the expense of all substance?  With veteran Bat-writer (and creator of BOOM!’s excellent “The Woods”) James Tynion IV at the helm, it actually winds up reading much better than that.  The setup is simple enough:  An accident with a trans-dimensional portal winds up sending the Turtles and Splinter, along with Shredder and a portion of the Foot Clan, to Gotham City.  Naturally, Shredder sees the city as being ripe for conquest, while the Turtles and Splinter seek to stop him by the means they have available to them.  Both groups wind up on Batman’s radar after the Turtles interrupt a raid by the Foot on a WayneTech lab.  From there (after the necessary introduction via fisticuffs) the Caped Crusader teams up with the Heroes in a Half Shell, to take down Shredder who finds willing ally in his quest in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul.

As an excuse to facilitate the team-up in the title, the story itself is fine.  Tyinon has a good grip on the Turtles’ individual characters and has some fun in their interactions with Batman.  From Donatello fawning over the Batmobile, to Michelangelo riding on the giant T-rex in the Batcave, to the Turtles introducing Batman to the greatness of pizza, he clearly knows what fans want to see.  Still, the most meaningful bit for me was when Batman gets some time with Raphael (who is having another one of his angry moments) to explain his origin and what the fight against crime means to him.  I guess in my old age I want to see the crossovers between franchises as I like have just a little bit of depth to them.  This miniseries does have plenty of style thanks to Freddie E. Williams II’s art and how he has this knack for making the characters appear larger-than-life.  His designs for the “mutanimal” versions of Batman’s rogues gallery are also pretty cool as well.

The whole crossover is as tasty as a regular peanut butter cup and about as filling too.  Buyer beware, however:  The actual story here is a little over 120 pages long with 50 (FIFTY!) pages of variant covers from Williams and other artists.  I didn’t mind that too much because I got this collection for $6 during a sale from ComiXology.  It’s currently available only in hardcover, but I’m not sure I’d be feeling as amenable to this crossover as I was if I had paid full (or even half) price for it.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol. 1

As uneven as Bendis’ output has been recently, it’s still nice to know that he can still write a good “Spider-Man” story.  Mostly.  With the Ultimate Universe having come to an end with “Secret Wars,” Miles Morales is now part of the Marvel Universe proper.  He’s still attending Brooklyn Visions Academy and trying to find a way to balance his superhero career, both solo and as a member of the Avengers, with his school life.  The problem is that he’s failing pretty bad at it, and his awful grades prompt his mom to get her mother, a no-nonsense tough-love type, involved in getting Miles’ life as she sees it back on track.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Miles’ appearance as the new Spider-Man on the block is getting some attention from the old Amazing one’s villains.  Specifically:  The Black Cat and Hammerhead.  With this new guy being one big question mark to them, they want to find out what his deal is and if he needs to be taken out of the picture before he becomes a real problem to them.

Miles’ troubles at school and home are the stuff of classic superhero drama and yet they still manage to entertain here.  Bendis is clearly invested in the material as his protagonist’s reactions to all this drama feel genuine.  There are also some good moments here between Miles and his best buddy Ganke.  While the latter serves an invaluable role as a confidant to his buddy, his fanboy nature does get the better of him here when he tries to force a friendship between Miles and Fabio “Goldballs” Medina (imported over from Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” run).  Really, all of the human drama in this volume is rock-solid and is the real core of this series.

That’s also true because the superhero action pretty much fizzles out at the end.  The fight with Blackheart in the beginning is fine as a means to give Miles a big win for the start of his new series.  As for the business with the Black Cat and Hammerhead, it really feels kind of pointless by the end.  There’s nothing wrong with having Miles face off against some of the members of Peter’s old rogues gallery, but there were clearly easier and smarter ways for them to get the information they wanted.  It does give artist Sara Pichelli a chance to show off her skills with superhero action, even though she’s just as good with all of the human drama.  The next volume does show more promise in balancing the human/superhero aspects of this series as Jessica Jones shows up and the story deals with the fallout of “Civil War II,” so that’s good to know.

Criminal vol. 7: Wrong Time, Wrong Place

I’m not done with Brubaker yet this week.  To be honest, after the writer decamped to Image along with Sean Phillips to do “Fatale” and their subsequent creator-owned titles, I didn’t think we’d ever see another volume of “Criminal.”  It had a very good six-volume run over at Marvel, but no ongoing storyline that needed to be continued.  Also, their Image titles sell better than “Criminal” ever did, so it’s not like there’s a real financial incentive to bring it back.  I’m glad they did as “Wrong Time, Wrong Place” gives us two more quality stories about the tragically violent Lawless family.

“Wrong Time” spotlights Teeg Lawless, doing a 30-day stretch for an outstanding bench warrant after he was busted in a bar fight.  Which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with the heist he just took part in for local mob boss Sebastian Hyde.  Things are going well for the man, until people start trying to kill him.  Surprisingly, these people aren’t out to get him on Hyde’s order.  Teeg’s a survivor, if nothing else, so the question here becomes who gave the order to take him out?  Revealing that he lives isn’t a spoiler because the back cover gives away the fact that Teeg is still alive by the time the second story, “Wrong Place,” comes around and we get to see what life was like when he goes out on a job and brings along his son Tracy, as the driver.  This is Tracy’s story as he learns a predictably hard lesson about getting to know other people at a time like this.  Whether or not anyone has to die in order for him to learn it, well, that would be telling…

Brubaker offers an illuminating look at the two most interesting recurring characters in the “Criminal” mythos.  Teeg may come off as a heartless killer, but there’s always a cold logic behind every action he takes.  As for Tracy, the origins of his isolationist tendencies are made quite clear here.  Both issues are also a great showcase for Phillips too, as he captures the cold grime of the prison from the first story, and the relative peace of a rural small town quite well.  However, the real showpieces for the artist in these issues are the comics-within-a-comic:  “Savage” and “Fang the Kung-Fu Werewolf,” pastiches of “Conan” and Marvel’s 70’s Kung-Fu titles, respectively.  The stories told here may be a bit on-the-nose with their parallels to the ones in the main plot, but the offer Phillips a rewarding chance to cut loose and have some fun with the styles he’s homaging here.  It’s clear that the creators haven’t lost the thread with the characters and world of “Criminal,” and any future returns stand a good chance of being welcome ones after seeing how this one turned out.

Goodnight Punpun vol. 3

It isn’t that this series has suddenly become dull in its examination of the ongoing misery of the title character’s life as he transitions into high school.  There’s too much disturbing stuff on display for that to happen.  Such as when we witness the loss of his virginity in a way that’s almost as uncomfortable for the reader to experience as it is for our protagonist.  We also get to see his attempts to fit in at high school by going along with the flow, yet not actually investing himself in it.  He gets some acquaintances and even goes out on a real date, but Punpun ultimately fails to develop any meaningful connections with those around him.  Which is kind of the point, it seems.

No, the problem here is that the misery is starting to become predictable in its occurrence.  Even if you’re not able to guess exactly what’s going to happen to Punpun, you can still rest easy in expecting the worst from pretty much every situation he finds himself in.  The adolescent stew of emotions, hormones, and raging insecurity is all too familiar to me.  Yet my time in high school still had its high points too.  I realize that the parallel narrative involving Punpun’s (former?) friends Masumi and Shimizu is meant to counter this by showing to people who have formed a connection which manages to get them through the worst life has to offer.  The problem with that is, well-executed it may be, it manages to just be predictable.  Where Punpun’s arc is marinated in despair, Masumi and Shimizu’s bucks it at the exact moment you’d expect it to.

This volume does manage to have the unlikeliest of breakout characters in Punpun’s Mom.  It turns out that she’s a lot more disturbed than anyone would’ve given her credit for prior to this volume as we see in a flashback that casts a whole new light on the defining moment of domestic violence from way back in the first chapter.  We learn more of her sad history, see her try to break the cycle after connecting with one of Punpun’s old friends in the hospital, and then…  Well, remember what I said about expecting the worst?  The volume ends with fresh heartbreak with the possibility that things will change as Punpun’s Dad comes back into the picture.  I’m interested in seeing how his return will turn out, even as I prepare for it to turn out as awfully as everything else in his life did during this volume.