Monthly Archives: November 2016

A PSA regarding reviews of future volumes of “Genshiken: Second Season.”

I found out recently that “Genshiken:  Second Season” wrapped up its serialization in Japan.  My friend Steve has been keeping up with the scanlations and he let me know that the series has also been fully translated at this point as well.  He also dropped the cryptic hint that Saki — the non-otaku member of the group who was one of the main characters in the first “season” — was revealed to be the true protagonist in these final chapters.  Anticipating only two volumes left in the series to be released over here I was fully prepared to wait until (what would likely be around) this time next year in order to find out how things ended with the release of the final volume in America.  Courtesy of its official release from Kodansha Comics.

However, a quick trip over to the scanlation site that Steve and I both frequent revealed that there aren’t two volumes left to release in “Second Season.”  There are three.  So instead of “Fall 2017,” I’d now be waiting until “Spring 2018” for the finale if I waited to read this through proper channels.  As you can probably guess, I caved and read through the rest of the series yesterday.


While I’m still committed to supporting the official release of this series by buying the new volumes as they come out, don’t expect to read any more about “Genshiken” here.  At least, until the final volume comes out and I drag Steve in for the podcast post-mortem regarding the title.  That’s because reading the ending has robbed me of any optimism I may have had regarding some of the long-term developments in this title.


Yes, I’m talking about “Madarame’s Harem” here.  The previous volume may have instilled some hope that this setup (and one pairing in particular) could’ve worked, by the end of the series it’s all a wash as far as I’m concerned.  This is particularly disappointing because there’s a lot of good character work done amidst this contrived romantic setup.  Particularly between Madarame and Hato, and — shock of all shockers — even Sue gets a breakout moment too.  There’s also a point where it looks like the harem business has finally been resolved in about as satisfying a manner as we could’ve hoped for.  Problem is, it’s reversed by the end of the series in a way that succumbs to “Genshiken’s” worst fan-indulgent tendencies.  I can’t really slow-clap a comic, but I really wanted to after getting to that point here.


I’ve had plenty of issues regarding this series, but I’ve kept reading on the hope that mangaka Shimoku Kio’s skills as a storyteller would be able to redeem this misguided storyline.  Ultimately, that doesn’t happen despite some scattered bright spots over the final three volumes.  One of those is the return of the main cast from the first “season” of the series.  It’s a wonderful bit of nostalgia for me because the whole vibe then was much closer to what it was like in the anime club that I attended and later ran during my college years (and then continued to hang out at for several years afterwards).


“Second Season” hasn’t  had the same vibe, but only part of that is down to my changing/aging tastes.  I’d much rather have seen Kio focus more on the fangirl priorities of the Genshiken’s current members, as well as Ogiue’s budding manga career and the like-minded aspirations of Hato and Yajima.  Instead, it wound up being dragged down by a story that posited what it would be like for a guy to wind up in a harem situation straight out of anime/manga/h-games while mostly failing to provide a credible reason for any of these individuals to fall in love with him.  “Genshiken:  Second Season” isn’t a creative failure on the level of “Gunsmith Cats:  Burst”where a creator returned to his signature creation out of apparent indifference and without a story to tell.  “Second Season” had one.  It was just misguided to the point that no amount of skillful character work could redeem it.

Inuyashiki vol. 5

The title character only makes a brief one-page appearance in this volume as the focus shifts onto the now-fugitive Hiro.  He’s currently hiding out with Shion, the girl who confessed to him and was brutally shot down in the previous volume, and it’s not nearly as awkward as I was fearing from the previous volume.  Shion, and her grandmother, seem perfectly willing to accept that Hiro has run away from home and needs a place to stay for the immediate future.  We know better, however, and find out in short order that the drama surrounding the boy’s outing as a serial killer has a dire effect on the person closest to him.  This sends Hiro off on another rampage as he takes out those who he believes to be at fault here before finally confessing to Shion about his situation and the fact that he’s no longer human.

It’s through this girl that Hiro tries taking another path towards redemption.  To the boy’s credit, at least this time he realizes that redemption requires the person who is seeking it to put in some actual work.  To the credit of mangaka Hiroya Oku, he recognizes that Hiro’s efforts aren’t going to be enough to cancel out his actions.  We also get more insight into why the boy started killing random people after he got his new body and receive further confirmation that he was likely pretty messed up even before he lost his (biological) humanity.


As a result, it becomes easier to understand why Hiro does what he does.  The problem is that he remains completely unsympathetic as a character.  What happens to him is tragic, but it’s no excuse for him to go out and murder all those people.  In fact, the whole “internet murder” sequence, while cleverly executed, does feel like a bit of wish fulfillment on Oku’s part when it comes to taking out internet trolls.  While Hiro does make an effort to try and balance the scales for his actions towards the end of the volume, he does so without actually taking responsibility for them.  We see on the final page that his failure to do this is only going to cause further consequences for himself, as well as Shion and her grandmother.


While none of what goes on in this volume really addresses my complaint about the simplistic black/white morality in “Inuyashiki,” there may be a way out for Oku if he wants to take it.  All he has to do is take on the fact that as a result of his abilities, Hiro is above conventional morality.  The boy is powerful enough to do what he wants and people should feel lucky that he’s even bothering to pay lip service to the social compact.  This was one of the central ideas of Alan Moore’s run on “Miracleman,” seen best when the title character shut down Margaret Thatcher’s objections to the plan he and his comrades had to remake society into a better place with a single word.  In the case of “Inuyashiki” will people be forced to accept the occasional murder spree from a living weapon if that’s what it takes to keep him from waging war on the entire world?  I know that sounds extreme, but that’s the direction this story is headed with the escalation of forces against Hiro.


I could be reading too much into this.  After all, Inuyashiki himself is still around and it’s inevitable that he and Hiro will have to take each other on at some point.  All of what I described above may just be Oku’s way of making the boy into a more sophisticated boogeyman in this conflict.  Hiro isn’t just an unsympathetic killing machine, he represents the death of society as we know it!  Only the kind, decent, and selfless old man Inuyashiki can save us now!  If that’s the case then this series will be the ultimate case of wish-fulfillment pandering to adults who want nothing more than for those kids to get off their damn lawn.  Which would likely be terrible.  I can only hope that I’m wrong about this, or that Oku will get to the Inuyashiki vs. Hiro battle royale so we can at least get some decent action out of all this.

Old Man Logan vol. 2: Bordertown

What does an old, grizzled, time-displaced version of Wolverine do when he realizes that the version of history he’s in isn’t going to lead to the awful future he came from?  “Bordertown” has him going to check on the little girl that eventually grew up to become his wife and making sure that she’s all right.  This turns out to be an extraordinarily bad idea when Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers show up, looking to extract some measure of payback against this version of Wolverine. If you think that setup sounds formulaic as hell, then you’d be right..  Still, writer Jeff Lemire continues to do a good job fleshing out Old Man Logan’s character (and the future he came from) while also doing the necessary work to make sure we care about the people we need to in this small town.  Even more effective is Andrea Sorrentino’s striking art which has this predictable story playing out in imaginative ways on the page.  While the issue that follows this arc may be overly sentimental, we at least get a decent direction for future adventures involving the character.  I’ll still be onboard for them.


A welcome surprise to this volume is the extra issue they included to round out its page count.  While reprinting old issues in collections of modern issues has annoyed me in the past, that’s not the case here as the one we get is both relevant to the story in this volume and a really good one at that.  They story in question is “Wounded Wolf” from “Uncanny X-Men” #205, featuring the first appearance of Lady Deathstrike after she’s been remade in the Body Shoppe by Spiral.  After that introduction, the story picks up with Katie Power (of the Power Pack) running into a severely wounded Wolverine.  Logan has been driven into a near feral state by Deathstrike and her mercs, and his only chance of survival hangs on this five-year-old superhero getting him to safety.


For a Marvel comic that’s over three decades old at this point, it has held up remarkably well.  Even if you know that all the named characters are going to survive this, it’s still just a little bit unsettling to see an innocent like Katie thrust into such a violent situation.  Less so, but still effective is seeing Wolverine beaten up so badly that he can’t even talk.  Legendary X-writer Chris Claremont also builds an effective rapport between the two as they help each other out the best they can while keeping the pace relentlessly tense until the end.  Barry Windsor-Smith is also on hand to provide some incredibly detailed art that helps sell this tension, while providing Deathstrike with a memorable character design that has endured to this day.  If you needed a reminder as to why “Uncanny X-Men” was the superhero comic to read in the 80’s, then this is it.

Hellboy in Hell vol. 2: The Death Card

If you follow my comments about this title over the past several months (or couple of years as it were) in the “Dark Horse Previews Picks” I write, you may have noticed an air of cynicism from me about this title.  My main issue with it is how it was marked as an ongoing title and yet new issues came out on a very infrequent basis.  You can’t really build up momentum or energy around a title that doesn’t come out.  So when Mike Mignola announced that the series would be ending with issue #10, I was of the opinion that it would be ending with a whimper rather than a bang.  Particularly when Mignola had said that the series was originally planned to run for longer than that.


Reading “The Death Card” now, I realize that I had things wrong.  While being able to read these issues all at once without having to wait months for the next one is great, the thing I had to understand was that this isn’t the climax to the grand “Hellboy” saga.  That, as it turns out, was “The Storm and The Fury.”  “Hellboy in Hell” is just the epilogue.

When you think about it like that, ten issues of falling action which document the title character’s (final) adventures in the underworld makes a lot of sense.  An extended sojourn with Hellboy that gives us more of the kind of stories that have defined his life before he meets his destiny.  In that respect, “The Death Card” really delivers.


We get to see Hellboy take on a card-playing vampire seeking revenge after he was banished by the character to the underworld.  Then he gets involved with the trial of a doctor who can help him with the parasite that’s attached to his soul, after the man’s vengeful accuser is taken care of.  Following that are Hellboy’s fateful encounters with another family member,  his wife, and his embrace of the role of Beast of the Apocalypse in a way that I don’t think any of us saw coming.


Even if these stories are all set in Hell and are working towards a singular goal, they still feel like classic “Hellboy” adventures.  The mix of occult weirdness, mythology, and irreverence that has defined the series is on full display here.  I mean, where else will you read a story where someone is asked to fend off a giant rampaging demon long enough so that his soul can be trapped inside a dead cat?  There’s also the requisite amount of monster/demon-punching in these stories and a welcome undercurrent of irreverence that flows through these stories as well.  A good portion of this volume feels like one last joyous go-round with the big red guy before it’s all over.


The rest of it is equally interesting for different reasons.  There are callbacks to other stories, “The Midnight Circus” and Hellboy’s wedding specifically, that wind up taking on a larger significance here.  I wasn’t expecting them to be relevant to seeing the hierarchy and fires of Hell snuffed out, but that’s a good thing.  One of the core ideas of the Mignolaverse is that this world IS ending and will be replaced by something new.  We get a pretty big hint that’s going on as planned, and that the undoing of Hell is part of it as well.  Having it tie into Hellboy’s acceptance of his role as the Beast of the Apocalypse is also a masterstroke on Mignola’s part as well.  Would it surprise you if I said that turned out to not be such a bad thing after all?


Mignola illustrated this volume as well, with colors by the incomparable Dave Stewart.  As with the first volume, it’s great to have him illustrating as well as writing his signature character’s adventures again.  There’s not another artist in the industry who has such elegantly simple linework and can utilize it to such elegantly spooky effect.  The best example of this comes towards the end in battles with Leviathan and Behemoth.  Epic fights which are over in a matter of panels.  Some might feel shortchanged by this, but they’re framed and colored in such a way to give them mythic resonance.  I also liked how the sequence involving the new world tree had this otherworldly inkwash effect to it.  This is unique to Mignola’s art and it helps to sell the idea that the new world is coming.


Yeah, “The Death Card” really beat my expectations by showing me that I had this whole series figured wrong.  As an epilogue to Hellboy’s struggles on Earth, it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.  The final pages may be a bit on the vague side, but I’ve got a pretty good idea about where they indicate the character will end up.  While “Hellboy’s” adventures will continue on for now in flashback stories with the B.P.R.D., this is the real end of his story and a very worthy one at that.

Superman: American Alien

Time to get back to work…


How many different versions of Superman’s origin have there been?  In my library alone I’ve got copies of John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” reinvention from the 80’s, Mark Waid and Lenil Yu’s maxiseries “Birthright,” and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s “Secret Origin.”  If you’re being generous, you can also count Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ first volume of “Action Comics” from the “New 52” in that bunch as well.  My point is that retelling Superman’s origin has effectively become its own sub-genre at this point.  It’s this thing that attracts A-list creators who are looking to make a mark on the character.  But why not write one of the character’s ongoing titles instead?  By going back to his origin they’re freed from the burden of having to deal with current continuity and they can actually tell a story about Superman that gives him a significant character arc as he learns the hard lessons involved in becoming a superhero.

Enter Max Landis.  Son of director John Landis, he’s best known for writing the film “Chronicle,” along with “American Ultra” and “Victor Frankenstein.”  He’s also done a lot of internet videos, the most relevant ones to this review being the ones he did regarding “The Death and Return of Superman” and “Regarding Clark” about Superman’s decision to kill in “Man of Steel.”  Landis is also a fairly controversial figure in fandom for a number of reasons, with his thoughts about Rey being a Mary Sue character in “The Force Awakens” being the most recently notable lightning rod.  When you consider that his previous “Superman” story for DC was alright and the spotty track record Hollywood writers have for transitioning into comics writing, there was genuine reason to be nervous about how this would turn out even with the stellar assortment of artists that were lined up for this project.  That makes the fact that this is one of the best (if not the best) takes on Superman’s origin all the more satisfying.


Landis’ original pitch, included at the back of this volume as an extra, was originally called “Seven Stories.”  While the issues collected here eventually come together to present a cohesive portrait of Superman’s journey from boy, to man, to superhero they’re also a series of done-in-one tales that spotlight a particular time in his life.  We see Clark Kent as a boy learning to control his ability to fly.  As a teenager, he gets his first experience with taking the law into his own hands and the kind of harm he can inflict on regular humans.  Subsequent stories show us how he comes to recognize the need for a secret identity, his first steps into journalism and Metropolis, and how to control the message he sends as Superman.


This approach works because of how we see these stores feed into one another as they go along.  You need to have him get his ability to fly under control, or else how will he be able to do anything else?  Having Clark see what his powers can do to ordinary people is necessary for him to develop a mindset where he doesn’t kill.  Being chastised by Lex Luthor for storming into his office to hold him to account without a plan helps him understand how Superman needs to go about making sure justice is carried out.  By the time we reach the final story, and get the Superman vs. Lobo fight I didn’t know I wanted, he’s emerged as a fully-realized character who you believe could handle any threat that comes his way.


Adding to the appeal of this approach is how grounded Landis has Clark/Superman appear as a character.  While seeing a younger version of the character come of age is one of the primary appeals of this kind of story, the writer really strikes the right chords in his characterization here.  It’s charming to see Clark as a boy, after having mastered flight, go on to his parents about how he’ll be able to fly them anywhere for a vacation now.  Or when he’s a teenager and getting heckled by his friends about how he uses his X-ray vision.  There’s also a really fun moment when he starts dancing with excitement after verifying that his recorder has taped conversations with Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, and Dick Grayson.  This isn’t a Clark Kent who started out as a paragon of moral virtue.  We see him as a regular human with his own charms and vices.  Much has been made about the flimsiness of his “Clark Kent” disguise over the years.  Yet when he tells one of his friends that whenever he takes his glasses off people say, “You look just like Superman,” there’s a cocky charm there that makes it work.


There’s a similar charm to be found in the supporting cast as well.  Yes, even Luthor.  I mean that in the way that Landis shows him to be someone who genuinely believes himself to be one of those great individuals who is capable of moving humanity forward and is therefore above everyone else.  He’s also demonstrated to have a great understanding of how the system works, which is why it’s so fun to see Clark give it a playful nudge both inadvertently and not.  Pete and Kenny fill the role of Clark’s friends from Smallville, providing some fun as they rib him over his unique situation and some credible drama when they call him out over his failings.  Jonathan and Martha Kent don’t get much of a role in the story beyond the first issue, but their stress and joy over raising this special boy is quite evident on the page.  While it was nice to see Oliver Queen’s transition from rich douchebag to grounded businessman in the two issues he appeared, Bruce Wayne’s big appearance was the real superhero highlight for me.  After years of “Who would win in a fight?” between Batman and Superman drama, it was actually refreshing to see the latter completely own the former here.


I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more done with Lois Lane, however.  She gets some good scenes where she discusses what this new hero “Skyman” means and what his agenda is with Clark.  Yet when it’s revealed that they’ve become a couple later on, there’s no real explanation as to how they came together.  That probably would’ve warranted its own issue, to be honest.


Some of the dialogue can get a bit expository and on the nose as well.  Particularly the bits in the sixth issue where Clark hashes things out with his friends.  I also imagine some people will have issues with a teenage Clark who sneaks away to drink beer with his friends and almost curses (and does apparently curse off panel at one point).  Personally, the idea of Clark’s abilities being a kind of “open secret” amongst certain individuals in Smallville does kind of rankle me.  I mean, they’re supposed to be a secret even though I can understand that keeping them that way would probably be next to impossible in such a close-knit community.  So while these issues do nag, I’ll cop to the fact that they’re more than likely the result of nitpicking.


As I mentioned above, a stellar contingent of artists was assembled for this series.  Nick Dragotta gives us some delightfully energetic work that captures Clark’s exuberance as a boy, while Tommy Lee Edwards gives us some grittier art that’s in line with the character’s teenage years and the darkness of the story.  Joelle Jones and Jonathan Case turn in the most grounded work, with the former really nailing the fun party at sea vibe of her story and the latter crafting a believable depiction of the scenic side of Metropolis and male friendship.  Francis Manapul turns in some terrifically detailed superhero work in his story as Superman takes on the Parasite, and Jock brings his always-welcome high-energy style to the Superman vs. Lobo fight.


The only outlier here is Jae Lee, who turns in some work that is dramatically different than what I’ve seen from him before.  While I haven’t seen what he’s been doing at DC in projects like “Before Watchmen” and “Batman/Superman” there was always this appealing spookiness to his art and a precision to it that made him a perfect fit for “The Dark Tower” miniseries he illustrated and brought an appreciably different aesthetic to superhero projects like “Inhumans” and “The Sentry.”


None of that is here as he turns in work that’s looser and sketchier than I’ve seen from him before.  Between this and the bright colors from June Chung, the spookiness that I liked about his work is gone.  Yet he’s still great with the characters, delivering an imposing rendition of Luthor, making Clark’s gleeful dance moment come off as likeably goofy, and rendering Batman’s swift defeat at Clark’s hands eminently believable.  Yes, the difference in Lee’s current style versus his past one is striking, but it says something about his skill as an artist that he can still turn out strong work even as he ditches the characteristics of the style I know him for.


As it says on the back of this collection, this is not a Superman comic.  It’s a fully-realized look at the formative years of Clark Kent as he grows into the superhero we all know and love.  From the writing to the art, the progression of his life is thoroughly believable and captivating.  And a whole lot of fun to take in as well.  There are plenty of takes on Superman’s origin already out there for your consumption.  Whether or not this is your first or your fifth, “American Alien” definitely warrants your time and money.

In which I let Spider Jerusalem describe how I’m feeling right now.

From “Transmetropolitan vol. 4:  The New Scum.”






Prior to his election, Gary “The Smiler” Callahan was shown to be a sociopath who would say and do anything in order to ensure that he became president.  It’s worth noting that he eventually got what was coming to him by the end of the series thanks to the efforts of Spider and his Filthy Assistants.  Our world has reflected “Transmetropolitan” in some welcome, disturbing, and surprising ways since its original publication.  I can only hope that it will continue to do so in light of recent events.

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol. 2

The first two-volumes-in-one collection of this series remains one of the high points for my comics reading experience this year.  Mangaka Kengo Hanazawa found a unique take on the zombie genre by making its protagonist, Hideo Suzuki, a mentally disturbed individual who happens to be one of Japan’s few gun owners.  While the first half of the debut omnibus showed us a series that could’ve easily worked as a character study that chronicles a man’s downward mental spiral, the (fast) zombie outbreak hits and Hideo suddenly has to deliver on his belief that he is a hero.

This was great stuff, and it read even better because the omnibus format allowed us to get a really good understanding of Hideo’s character and the initial outbreak.  Thanks to Carl Horn at Fanime, I also learned that Philip Simon, the book’s editor, was the person responsible for this format.  As I said before, he deserves a goddamn medal for that because I don’t think that the series would read as well if we had to wait three months between volumes.  This is made even more clear in this latest omnibus as we see that Hanazawa is committed to his slow-burn approach to storytelling even at the expense of pacing.

While the first omnibus left off with Hideo finding his way onto a train car where the people onboard hadn’t become aware of the outbreak, the quiet doesn’t last long.  The (former, I guess) mangaka finds himself back in the city briefly before winding up in a horrifyingly tense taxi ride.  From there, he heads out into the wilderness for a long, dark night alone with the thoughts in his head.  Upon waking up, he encounters Hiromi Hayakari, a schoolgirl on a class trip to a nature lodge out in these woods.  They may seem to make for unlikely partners at first.  However, when you consider that her “friends” bullied her before they became infected and Hideo has a gun, then their partnership starts to make a lot more sense.

The problem with this second omnibus isn’t that nothing important happens in it.  It just feels like Hanazawa takes forever to get to the interesting stuff.  After an action-packed beginning, the pace drops off quickly once Hideo finds his way into the woods.  We spend a few chapters as our protagonist sorts things out in his mind and things start to drag as a result.  While Hiromi’s introduction does add a bit of energy and a new character dynamic to consider, the narrative still remains somewhat sluggish as she gets to know Hideo and then they have to deal with her friends showing up.

While the slow pace in the middle of the omnibus is frustrating, it’s clear that Hanazawa feels that this is the right approach to illustrating his characters’ state of mind.  Despite having a gun, it’s clear that Hideo isn’t going to turn into the zombie-killing action hero that Japan needs right now.  He’s just too messed up for that to happen.  Between his hallucinations, lingering guilt over how he had to put down his girlfriend, and an almost pathological commitment to following laws and social conventions, it’s actually quite impressive that he’s survived this long.

In fact, Hideo’s commitment to making sure he doesn’t cause any waves until it’s almost too late shouldn’t work in this kind of story.  That it does is a testament to Kanazawa’s sterling character work earlier in the series.  Hideo has already been established as someone who is obsessive-compulsive about how he opens his door and the little rituals he performs to keep himself safe.  We’ve also seen him continually defer to others to defuse the most minor of conflicts in his job.  Toss in the fact that the world of “I Am A Hero” has no existing zombie fiction, the fact that Hideo doesn’t bust out his rifle to take on the infected on the train actually makes a certain amount of sense.  It’s why his taxicab ride with people he knows to be infected is so tense.  You can understand how Hideo would try to convince himself that everything is normal before he has to take action when things start to go crazy.

(I also have to put in an aside about the taxi sequence.  One of the passengers is an African-American who convinces the people in the cab to head to Yokota Air Force Base for help.  However, by the time they arrive at the base, his infection has set in and he has started to turn.  It’s not made explicitly clear in the art or the story, but the implication is that this character was shot by the military after he wouldn’t calm down or back off from the fence surrounding the base.  These volumes were originally published in 2010, well before “Black Lives Matter” was a concern out here.  There is nothing in the text to suggest any inherent racism on Hanazawa’s part as the main purpose of the scene is to show that the American military is also at the mercy of this outbreak.  However, readers sensitive to this kind of subject matter should be aware that such a scene is briefly present in this volume.)

As for Hiromi, she makes for an interesting contrast with our protagonist and his state of mind.  Hanazawa sketches her out to be an average high school girl whose main problem is dealing with the mild bullying she gets from her friends.  Yet she’s able to make the best of the situation and that serves her well when she meets up with Hideo.  Even if she’s a lot younger than he is, she’s far more composed than him and able to take the initiative in some key scenes.  This leads to Hideo teaching her how to use his rifle, and pedaling a bike to get away while our hero rides on the back.  In fact, with one big exception, most of Hideo’s behavior towards this girl could be described as downright unheroic.  If he does believe that he’s a hero, then the man has a lot of work to do in order to live up to that ideal.

Or maybe he doesn’t.  So far the series has effectively illustrated the divide between what Hideo proclaims himself to be and what he actually is.  Maybe this series will wind up being a long-term examination of this divide, climaxing only when he either fails or succeeds in living up to it.  Given the strength of the character work seen so far in these two omnibi, that seems like a really promising direction for this series to take.  Of course, I just hope Hanazawa decides to show it to us in a more expedient manner than he’s done so far.

Tokyo Ghost vol. 2: Come Join Us

I’d hoped that this second volume would provide a good setup for more great art from Sean Murphy.  As it is, you get the feeling that he gave the first volume his all and was then forced to soldier through this one with the stamina he had left.  That’s not to say that there aren’t any great visuals, frenetic chase scenes, or imaginative set pieces in this second volume — the bit with Genghis, Osama, and Hitler racing go-karts in a virtual wonderland with Davey Trauma is a high point — but the spark that drove vol. 1 isn’t here.  Still, what qualifies as “okay” art from Murphy is still more eye-catching than most other artist’s best efforts in my book.

This is particularly disappointing because Rick Remender’s story goes in the same direction that I was expecting it to.  After the Tokyo Garden was destroyed as a result of his techno-relapse, Constable Led Dent is back in L.A. taking out all sorts of deviants and troublemakers for its leader, Mr. Flak.  This is in advance of Mr. Flack’s plan to move anyone who can afford it to the newly renovated as-luxurious-as-it-is-garish Tokyo Garden and to dope up the masses so that they don’t realize it’s happening.  Throwing a wrench into his plan is the sudden appearance of a sword-wielding, EMP-using vigilante who wants to bring everything down.

If you’ve read the first volume, then you get no points for guessing who this mysterious troublemaker is.  While Remender does deserve credit for crafting effective messages about the perils of addiction and co-dependence through his protagonists, and coming up with some of the world’s more gonzo touches, his storytelling takes the predictable, conventional route whenever possible.  He and Murphy work hard to sell their message about the perils of a wired world, but if you were expecting more nuance to the first volume’s “Technology=BAD” and “Nature=GOOD” stances then you’re not going to find it here.  I was also thoroughly disappointed by the epilogue which lets us know that the conflict we saw here isn’t quite over yet and leaves the door open for a sequel.

Now, you might have heard that Murphy has signed an exclusive contract with DC that will have him drawing “Batman” comics for the next few years.  While I hope that he gets back doing creator-owned work after that, I hope he does a new series rather than give us a new volume of this one.

Silver Surfer vol. 4: Citizen of Earth

Sometimes a series is too good to keep down.  While sales for the issues collected in the previous volume indicated that would be last we saw of the Dan Slott/Mike Allred run on this title, Marvel decided to give it another go in the wake of “Secret Wars.”  This is without a doubt a good thing.  The only catch is that vol. 4 isn’t quite up to the high standards of vol. 3.  Not only did that volume feature a well-done tie-in to “Secret Wars” and an imaginative take on a familiar sci-fi genre trope, it also had a fantastically imaginative “Groundhog Day”-esque time-travel story that utilized the comics form in a masterful way.  There’s nothing on that level here as the Surfer and Dawn return to Earth only to be confronted with the legacy of the former’s home planet.  Zenn-La’s Keeper of the Great Truth has shown up on our doorstep with the intent of improving it by converting our culture to theirs.  Naturally the Surfer is against this, but how can he fight against his own people?  Especially once he finds out who the current Keeper of the Great Truth actually is.

The Surfer makes an unexpectedly harsh choice in order to see that Earth’s culture is preserved, but that’s really the only surprise of the main arc in this volume.  It’s mostly just a lot of fighting as he takes on the Thing along with a whole bunch of other Marvel heroes (who go on to help him out afterwards after the Zenn-La-vians try to get some payback).  That’s not as bad a thing as it sounds since it not only gives Allred a chance to show off his chops for action, but to draw a ton of current and classic Marvel characters in his inimitable style.  Slott also manages to invest this volume with some real heart and drama in the last two issues as the Surfer finds a way to have Dawn meet up with the one person she never thought she’d see again.  To decidedly complicated but believable results.  That this story also has the Surfer teaming up with Spider-Man to take on some shape-shifting creatures (which gives Spidey the chance to punch out Mephisto for… past indiscretions) really sums up the series’ quirky appeal.  “Silver Surfer’s” mix of action and sentimentality may not work as well here as it has in previous volumes, yet it still results in an entertaining package that I’m glad to see continue.

Revival vol. 7: Forward

The status quo of this series was upended pretty effectively in the previous volume as Emily Cypress’ status as a reviver became public knowledge.  Then Emily’s sister Dana gave up just about everything to save her from the military and now the two are on the run in Wausau.  They’ve got one goal:  To find out who murdered Emily, which may also bring them closer to the origins of this whole revival business.  Their plans for this involve sneaking into a hospital in clown makeup.  Oh, and they’re also being followed by an Amish ex-special-forces ninja as well.

“Revival” has always had a quirky side to it and with this penultimate volume writer Tim Seeley decides to indulge it just a bit more.  Surprisingly, these things don’t feel too out of place here.  That’s likely because there’s a general escalation of craziness in this volume as things start building up towards the end.  Gen. Cale starts tightening her grip as chaos infests The Farm, while the revivals being kept there start making plans with their souls for escape.  Meanwhile, Dana’s ex Derrick finds a lot more drama in his life as he tries to keep helping out his former flame, gets into fights with his current girlfriend over her actions at a strip club, and has to deal with army grunt Gianni Sarkis and his thuggish approach to enforcement regarding Derrick’s marijuana-dealing activities.

All of this comes together in a bloody, over-the-top climax that leaves plenty of people dead and Wausau likely thrust under further military control.  This is a great setup for the finale, even though the bizarre final scene involving Emily’s unborn child does threaten to derail things somewhat.  I really don’t know where Seeley is going with that, even if that same feeling is fueling my excitement for the main plot.  It’s entirely possible that things could go off the rails in “Revival’s” final act and that kind of tension doesn’t make waiting for it any easier.  Re-reading everything before that happens should prove to be an illuminating experience, however…