Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Unbelievable Gwenpool vol. 1: Believe It

The title to this series (as well as its first volume) is entirely appropriate considering the character’s origins.  Originally an amalgamation of Gwen Stacey and Deadpool who showed up on the variant cover to “Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars” #2, the character image became quite popular with fans.  But how do you turn such a thing into an actual character capable of carrying her own comic stories?  In lesser hands, this might have been an impossible task.  However, in the less sane hands of Christopher Hastings — the creator of “The Adventures of Doctor McNinja” — it actually works out surprisingly well.  Hastings hit upon the genius idea of having Gwen Poole be a fangirl from our universe who has found herself in the Marvel Universe.  As a result of her encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe and its conventions, she knows that you’re either a hero in a costume or just an extra.  So she gets herself a superhero outfit and starts learning the ropes of the hero business firsthand.


She gets off to an unsteady start, stealing a virus from the Black Cat and selling it to Hydra because she needs the money.  Which is no problem because the Avengers will take care of it, right?  Except they’re in space and now she has to team up with Howard the Duck to get it back. This is only the start of the ridiculousness under Hastings’ watch, and the whole volume is pretty funny and imaginative on balance.  I say that because there are the occasional bits of sentimentality and darkness that pop in from time to time. They’re ostensibly there to remind you that there’s more to this book than comedy, but wind up just disrupting the book’s playful tone.


Said tone is best exemplified by the bright, clean art from Gurihiru that really sells the comedy in the series.  It’s also enough to make the otherwise fine art from Danilo Beyruth, who handled the back-up stories, look busy and dull by comparison.  Which are two things this volume is not.  She may have got her start as a tenuous spinoff of “Deadpool,” but “Gwenpool” stands on her own thanks to Hastings’ inspired approach and Gurihiru’s wonderful art.

Princess Jellyfish vol. 3

While I’ve enjoyed the previous two volumes of this series, I haven’t been entirely crazy about them.  Though the love triangle at its core between jellyfish otaku Tsukimi, gorgeous cross-dresser Kuranosuke, and his straight-laced brother Shu is competently handled, there’s not a lot much new there.  Even when you consider the crossdressing angle.  Mangaka Akiko Higashimura does have a solid parallel plot as the other female otaku of AMARS come together under Kuranosuke’s guidance to start a dressmaking operation in order to save their residence from being demolished.  Yet this part of the series is also home to its most annoying element:  The other female otaku.


If one of Higashimura’s goals with this series was to show that female otaku could be just as annoying and lacking in social graces as their male counterparts, then mission accomplished.  It’s not that the social awkwardness of nerds can’t be mined for good comedy.  The problem here is that things are played up to such a zany extent that the characters start feeling like joke machines rather than actual people.  “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” fangirl Mayaya has been the worst offender for most of the series (and this volume).  The way she proclaims the similarities between that classic tale and her life have been grating for a while now, along with her active incompetence at just about everything else.  Then you have misconceptions that are meant to come off as hilarious, but just make the characters in question look dumb.  Even if doll fanatic Chieko does know an incredibly talented dressmaker, you’d think she’d mention that this person’s skills relate only to dolls rather than actual people.


Yet there is hope to be found for these characters in this volume as well.  Mayaya, specifically.  As it turns out, the tall thin otaku is perfectly suited for one role in the girls’ dressmaking operation.  Said role is also one that forces her to confront her insecurities and actually grow a little as a person.  There is some wackiness attached to said growth, except now it actually feels like it’s coming from the character this time.  If Higashimura can actually bring some humanity to the most annoying of these otaku, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of them here.  I’ll keep reading to see if that’s the case.

Marvel Previews Picks: March 2017

Forget about what to look forward to from Marvel next year.  Here’s what they should do:  Run their events in serial not parallel order.  Right now we’re in the thrall of “Civil War II,” “The Clone Conspiracy,” and “Inhumans vs. X-Men” each with their own assorted tie-ins throughout their respective lines.  Forget about the usual question regarding how fans are supposed to dig deep enough into their wallets to read all of these.  How is the company expecting to generate enough attention for these events when they’re competing against each other?  That’s likely why we’re seeing diminishing returns for these things, especially in the tie-in issues.  Don’t expect to see this problem sorted out right away as the first few months of 2017 sees another event, “Monsters Unleashed,” kick off as the “Clone Conspiracy” and “IvX” are wrapping up.  Marvel does have another event in the offing, a “classified” one that’s so secret they can’t even release information regarding the trade paperback solicited here.  We’ll only have to wait a few months to not only find out what it is, but if it’ll be the only event in town for its duration.


In movie-related news, writer of the original “Civil War” series called the “Captain America” film of the same name bleak and forgettable after its first twenty minutes.  Mind you, this is coming from the man who has sold a lot of comics that trade on cynicism and wrote the one in question which effectively spearheaded the current trend of heroes fighting heroes in comics.  I didn’t need another reason to not keep reading his comics, but I’ll take it anyway.

America #1:  America Chavez finally gets her long-demanded ongoing series from young adult author Gaby Rivera and artist Joe Quinones.  Does this mean Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta’s ersatz “America” series is now D.O.A.?  I certainly hope so, since it means I won’t have to lose any sleep about whether or not Dragotta will be able to juggle two ongoing series between that and “East of West.”  As for this series?  Al Ewing finally made Ms. Chavez interesting to me in the pages of “Ultimates” which I’ll continue to read.  However the phrase “young adult author Gaby Rivera” does nothing for me.  So this is likely only going to wind up on my “to read” list if solid word-of-mouth propels it there.


Man-Thing #1 (of 5):  As the solicitation text notes, the big deal here is that “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine will be writing this new miniseries.  It will involve Man-Thing regaining his ability to speak and subsequently taking Hollywood by storm.  But wouldn’t you know it, there’s an ancient threat facing his ancestral swamp home.  Now he’ll have to choose between his new life and old one.  Maybe there’s more to it, but the solicitation text here makes the story sound painfully generic.  Not having read any “Goosebumps” as a kid (by the time they became a thing, I was reading Stephen King) having Stine as a writer provides no additional appeal for me either.


X-Men Prime #1/Inhumans Prime #1:  The starting point for both lines in the wake of “IvX.”  Spelled out by incoming writers Marc Guggenheim and Al Ewing, respectively.  Obviously I’ll be picking up whatever “X-Men” collection their “Prime” issue is collected in.  Most likely the first one for the “X-Men:  Gold” series he’s writing.  Here’s where I’d follow with a sentence professing my general indifference to the “Inhumans” in spite of Marvel’s efforts to get me to care about them.  Except that Al Ewing pulled off the impossible in successfully following up Kieron Gillen’s work with the character in “Loki:  Agent of Asgard” and getting me to care about Ms. America (see above).  Can he do the same for the “Inhumans?”  I might actually give him a shot at that.


Deadpool #28, Spider-Man/Deadpool #15, Deadpool and the Mercs for Money #9:  Kicking off the nine-part “‘Til Death do us…” crossover.  As the title implies, all is not well in the marriage between the Merc With a Mouth and Shiklah, Queen of Monster Metropolis.  When Shiklah’s people are attacked, she declares war against the surface world.  As her husband, Deadpool is naturally expected to take up arms with her.  Even if it means going against all of the other heroes on the surface.  Ten will get you twenty that this ends with either Shiklah dead, a divorce between her and Deadpool, or both.  While I consider the story in which she met Deadpool to be the high point of the Duggan/Posehn run, the idea of a married Deadpool has never seemed like a permanent development for the character.  Their separation, however, looks to be a big enough deal for a nine-issue crossover.  Also, I’m still incredibly wary about giving the current Duggan “Deadpool” series another shot after how badly he screwed things up with its first volume.


Monsters Unleashed Monster-Size HC:  $50 for a 168-page B-level crossover?  Even if it features art from Adam Kubert, Greg Land, Steve McNiven, Lenil Yu, and Salvador Larroca that’s way too goddamn much.  I realize that $50 is the going cover price for hardcover editions of Marvel crossovers these days, but unless this turns out to be transcendently good I think I’ll wait for the paperback edition (after I can find it on sale).  Maybe Marvel will come to its senses and lower the price before this actually comes out, because at the other end of the spectrum…


Amazing Spider-Man:  The Clone Conspiracy HC:  This is $60, but for 496 pages collecting the next major storyline in Dan Slott’s epic run on “Amazing Spider-Man.”  Aside from the main miniseries, it collects the tie-in issues from “Amazing,” as well as the “Omega” finale issue, and the tie-ins from “Silk” and “Prowler.”  My only hope is that the issues will be put in proper reading order, the same way they were for “Infinity.”  The “Spider-Verse” collection came with a “recommended reading order” list for the issues collected within.  It was a nice thought, but one that still came off as incredibly lazy on Marvel’s part.


Black Widow vol. 2:  No More Secrets:  The solicitation for issue #12, also solicited here, sounds pretty final.  Regrettably, the sales for this series from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee would seem to indicate that this latest volume of “Black Widow” is headed for a twelve-issue run.  Which is too bad considering that the first volume was pretty good.  If the rumors of this title’s demise are to be expected, then prepare to see this run collected in a one-volume edition down the road.  I have a hunch it’ll wind up being good enough to warrant such treatment.


Captain America:  Sam Wilson vol. 4 — #TAKEBACKTHESHIELD:  This collection of issues #14-17 looks to continue the ongoing plot threads of Nick Spencer’s run, featuring Flag-Smasher, Steve “Hydra Cap” Rogers, D-Man, the All-New Falcon, and Rage.  Misty Knight also gets her own spotlight issue here too.  That said, as a four-issue collection from Marvel, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that they’ve included a “classic” issue to pad out this volume’s page count.  This time, they’re really stretching the definition of that word as this volume collects the beyond-ridiculous issue where Cap fights President Reagan who has been turned into a snake-creature by the Serpent Society.  Naturally Cap is hesitant about taking on the leader of the free world, so he winds up just grappling Reagan long enough to sweat the Society’s poison out and return to human.  Not a crazy good time, just dumb.  I hope its inclusion here isn’t indicative of any related plot points in this volume…

Image Previews Picks: March 2017

What can we look forward to with Image next year?  Well, I’m still hoping that “World Domination by Way of Comics” is still on their agenda.  They’re consistently putting out the most interesting and diverse set of comics in the western world and there’s only going to be more to look forward to in the coming year.  Which I hope includes some kind of announcement regarding when we can see a collected edition(s) of David Lapham’s latest “Stray Bullets” series “Sunshine and Roses.”  Issue 22 is solicited here and there’s STILL no indication as to whether or not the series will be collected in multiple editions, an “Uber Alles”-esque omnibus edition, or not at all.  If it’s the last one, David, then please let me know because then I will go and start buying the series in single issue form.  Outside of deep discounts on ComiXology, the best way to get me to buy single issues is to NOT collect them at all.


In other news, the latest issue of “Saga” has been delayed a whole year due to a printing error that saw the cover for the issue come out very dark.  Where it was originally supposed to come out on December 28, 2016, it will now be arriving on January 3, 2017.  Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

Royal City #1:  This is a new series written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire of “Sweet Home” and “Descender” fame along with many Marvel and DC runs of varying quality.  While I’ve read a good deal of his work at both companies, Lemire originally made his name with the small-town-life graphic novel “Essex County.”  I have yet to read that, but it’s something I should get around to because it also represents a rare story in his output that is devoid of supernatural or sci-fi influences.  It’s also name-checked in the solicitation text for this oversized debut issue about fading literary star Patrick Pike who reluctantly moves back home to his family that is still haunted by the death of their youngest son who drowned decades ago.  This will also be the first creator-owned series Lemire has written and illustrated since “Sweet Home,” so I’m looking forward to seeing some of the experimentation in layouts that helped distinguish that series here along with the kind of detailed characterization you expect from his writing.


Extremity #1:  It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a really striking image can get interested in checking out a series.  Take the cover to the first issue of this series, for example.  While the detail in the linework is impressive, the contrast between the girl’s serene expression and the fact that her right hand has been bloodily cut off drew me in.  There are also other cool details to consider as well:  Why is a drawing of the severed hand on the pages swirling about the character?  What happened to all of the dead bodies lying at her feet?  Did she kill them?  The solicitation text tells me that the girl’s name is Thea and she dreams of revenge against the clan that ruined her family.  That doesn’t really grab me, but the cover does.  This comes from writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson whose highest-profile work before this was “Space Mullet” from Dark Horse.  I’ll have to check that out to see if Johnson has the chops that can make the promise in this series a reality.  Also, I like the idea of having a comic called “Space Mullet” in my library.


Rat Queens #1:  Offering a fresh soft reboot in light of the drama that sunk the previous volume.  I’m actually kind of surprised that this is coming back as the circumstances surrounding the departure of current artist Tess Fowler sounded fairly toxic to the title’s future.  Now writer Kurtis J. Wiebe is back with new artist Owen Gieni to see if that’s truly the case.  Honestly, I would’ve been fine if the series had remained on permanent vacation.  While there were plenty of fun comedic moments throughout the first three volumes, the series never really felt like it lived up to its potential.  This was especially true in the third volume where things took a turn for the dramatic without the necessary weight to successfully pull it off.  I’m also wondering what Hannah is doing on the cover of this volume given what happened to her in vol. 3.  Unless it’s just a generic group shot or something.  Still, I think I’ll be able to live without knowing the solution to that particular mystery.


Think Tank #1:  I liked the first three volumes of Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal’s series about irreverent genius David Loren’s struggles with working within the U.S. military-industrial complex.  While not entirely plausible, it was clear that Hawkins had done his research regarding the kind of weapons development David was involved in and there was always entertainment to be gleaned from how the scientist constantly pushed against the wills of those around him.  Then I read the solicitation text and I’m not sure what to make of it now.  David made a surface-thought reader that someone has used to train animals to kill?  He’s also recovering from a suicide attempt?  And his dad shows up with the sister he never knew he had?  This sounds more like a soap opera than the techno-thriller about weapons development that I’ve been reading.


Head Lopper #5:  Andrew MacLean’s quarterly “Not Conan” series returns for another round.  Yeah, I realize that calling it “Not Conan” is quite snarky.  I will admit, however, that the first volume was a more entertaining read than the last couple of Dark Horse “Conan” volumes have been.


Injection #11:  Back for its next arc now that artist Declan Shalvey is no longer doing back-up stories for “All-Star Batman.”  Vol. 2 shined a much-needed and very entertaining light on the title’s Sherlock-ian member Vivek Headland, and the start of vol. 3 promises to do the same for its resident hacker Brigid Roth.  The previous volume also showed writer Warren Ellis back at the top of his game, a trend which I hope to see continue here.


The Complete Phonogram HC:  If there was any justice in the world, then a collection with this title would have consisted of more than just three miniseries.  That being said, this giant hardcover includes the B-side backup stories from each single issue in collected form for the first time.  If I hadn’t bought the single issues when they were on sale, that might have made this collection worth buying in my case.  However, the single issues also contain Gillen’s commentary and expanded glossaries for all of the music-related talk as well.  So while I’m comfortable leaving this on the shelf, anyone who hasn’t experienced “Phonogram” yet is ORDERED to get this as soon as it comes out.


Deadly Class vol. 5:  Carousel:  You mean I have to wait until MARCH to find out what happens next!?  Maaaaaaaaan!  Anyway, vol. 4 of this series was an amazing read right up until its last page where it pulled a twist that I wasn’t convinced writer Rick Remender would follow through on.  After he pulled the same kind of stunt over in “Black Science” left me with a “Not until I see the actual dead body” mindset when I got to that twist.  If the person in question is actually dead, then I’ll have to commend Remender for having massive enough balls to pull it off.  In the meantime, this volume kicks off the start of the new year at King’s Dominion complete with a new power structure in the school and plenty of freshmen to be grist for the mill.  At the center of it is Saya who just has to mortgage the rest of her humanity if she wants to get any further than she already has.


The Fix vol. 2:  Laws, Paws, and Flaws:  In which we’re told that Roy meets the mayor.  We’re not told that, “And then things go even more wrong,” but based on the first volume I think we can take that as read.


Revival vol. 8:  Stay Just a Little Bit Longer:  The final volume.  Now, to read this first and then re-read the entire series or re-read the entire series before reading this.  That’s the real question I’m faced with here.


Saga vol. 7:  Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that even though the latest issue was pulped and delayed a year *rimshot* this latest volume won’t be delayed that much.  This is also the first arc of “Saga” to have an actual title in “The War for Phang” as Marko, Alanna, Hazel, and co. find themselves traveling to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been fighting over for ages.  What do they find there?  From the solicitation text, “New friendships are forged and others are lost forever in this action-packed volume about families, combat, and the refugee experience.”  Sounds like a regular Thursday as far as this series is concerned.


The Walking Dead vol. 27:  The Whisperer War:  In which Negan’s actions in the previous volume prove invaluable to Rick and everyone else in Alexandrea and allow them to defeat the Whisperers once and for all!  Then Negan is welcomed into the community with open arms and nothing in this series is bad again!  EVER!  That’s what you can expect to see in this volume, and you can take that to the bank.  (So long as said bank only deals in Monopoly money.)

DC Previews Picks: March 2017

What’s there to look forward to from DC in 2017?  Mostly them making good on the plot threads that were set up in the “Rebirth” one-shot from earlier this year.  So if you’ve been waiting for them to explain who Mr. Oz (who is totally not Ozymandias from “Watchmen”) really is or where the “Watchmen” smiley-face button that was found in the Batcave came from, then your prayers will be answered.  Also if you wanted to know what’s up with Ray “The Atom” Palmer subsequent to his disappearance as well.  Having not read “Rebirth,” none of this really appeals to me.  ESPECIALLY the “Watchmen”-related bits.  I’ll take my enjoyment with the “Rebirth”-related collected editions that will start arriving next month.


Regarding DC’s current hot-button issue — the cancellation of “The Legend of Wonder Woman” after inker/letterer/colorist Ray Dillon, husband to the series’ writer/artist Renae De Liz, made disparaging remarks about the company on social media — there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides.  In Dillon’s case, the simple fact is that you DON’T make any kind of critical remarks about your current employer in any kind of public forum.  Even if you’re not working for the company under an exclusive contract, you’re still part of the team and have to play together as such.  That said, how heartless does a company have to be in order to fire a husband and wife team, where the wife is pregnant, just before Christmas?  Would it have killed DC to delay this action by just a few weeks and done it in the first week of January?  Then again, it’s not like this is the worst thing DC has done to a creator who used to work for them so maybe whoever handled this just figured it was business as usual.

Superman #’s 18-19 & Action Comics #’s 975-976:  Billed as the first inter-title “Superman” crossover of the “Rebirth” era, this looks to be DC making good on their promise to explain Mr. Oz’s deal.  Apparently in the one-shot he told the Man of Steel that “You and your family are not what you believe you are. And neither was the fallen Superman.”  Amidst these revelations, the life of his son Jonathan hangs in the balance.  It all sounds pretty dramatic, to be sure, and while I’m not enthused about anything regarding Mr. Oz (see above) the collected edition of this event will likely wind up in my library as I’m planning on buying “Superman” based on the good word of mouth it’s received.


All-Star Batman #8:  Snyder takes on the Mad Hatter, with a surprising artist in tow:  Giuseppe Camuncoli.  I say this is surprising because while Camuncoli got his start in American comics by toiling for years in the trenches of Vertigo and Wildstorm on “Hellblazer” fill-ins, the latter half of Brian Vaughan’s “Swamp Thing,” and the first half of Joe Casey’s “The Intimates.”  Then he decamped for Marvel and ascended through their ranks to the point where he’s now part of their A-list as the regular artist on “Amazing Spider-Man.”  It’s probably telling that his first work for DC in years is this kind of high-profile gig.  Might there be more of these for the company in the future?


Justice League #17:  In which Superman is presented with an impossible choice in part three of the time-travel story “Timeless.”  Will he save Krypton from exploding or save his friends in the League?  Maybe there will be more to this plot point in the actual issue, but it’s a pretty obvious choice when things are laid out in the solicitation text like this.  It’ll be hard for him, but Superman is going to save his friends.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do and Superman always does that, no matter how hard it is.  (Even when we’re not accounting for the fact that such a decision would certainly wipe the character as we know him out of existence.)  I could be wrong about this, but I kinda doubt it.


All-Star Batman vol. 1:  My Own Worst Enemy:  Scott Snyder’s victory lap with Batman begins with a road trip out of Gotham with Two-Face in tow.  While some have said that the return of KGBeast atop an 18-wheeler is the real reason to get this story, I’m still sticking with my original feelings regarding the consistently excellent work the writer turned out with Greg Capullo on “Batman” over these past four years.  Meanwhile, over in that title…


Batman vol. 2:  I am Suicide:  Well, I finished reading all of Tom King’s “The Vision” and I’m still not convinced that he’s the next big thing to hit comics.  Still, this volume does offer up a pretty compelling hook.  In order to rescue the Psycho Pirate and Gotham Girl from Bane, Batman has to recruit his own Suicide Squad from Amanda Waller.  I imagine the most difficult part of the story for King is going to be making Batman interacting with his “team” as dramatic as his interactions with Waller.  They’ve got kind of a difficult history after she faced him down in Belle Reeve all those years ago.


Superman vol. 2:  Trial of the Super Sons:  In which Superman and his son head to Dinosaur Island on the trail of the last of the Losers.  Which is drawn by Doug Mahnke and is sure to be awesome.  Also, Superman and Batman meet up at the county fair… with their kids in tow.  I’m sure that Jonathan and Damien are going to get along just great and in a way that’s more “World’s Finest” than “Batman v. Superman.”  I could just be deluding myself there…


Savage Things #1 (of 8) :  I’m not sure why this new miniseries from writer Justin Jordan and artist Ibrahim Moustafa isn’t coming out from Image, given the writer’s long history there, but here we are.  It involves a secret government organization who kidnapped children predisposed to violence and trained them to be agents of chaos to spread unrest throughout the world.  Mind you, that would be the kind of unrest that benefits the U.S.A. more than anything else.  As you’d expect with this kind of thing, the kids proved to be too difficult to control and were eventually taken out.  Or so their handlers thought.  Now they’re back and the only hope of stopping the swath of terror they’re cutting through the country lies with the only man who ever walked away from them.  Jordan’s resume is one that is long on style and short on substance.  That’s fine when he’s working with a talented artist like Tradd Moore, but Moustafa’s an unknown quality with me.  Not to put all the burden on the artist, I suppose I’d be more interested in this if Jordan’s previous work had displayed real depth to it.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: March 2017

It’s close enough to the end of the year that it’s time for me to come back to my favorite talking point regarding this company:  manga.  After 2015 offered a bright spark of hope with the licensing of “I Am a Hero,” 2016 was back to the doldrums.  Not that Kengo Hanazawa’s zombie manga wasn’t a good read.  It’s just that it didn’t signal the licensing of more titles that weren’t from established/popular creators or part of popular franchises in other media.  Also, while vol. 1 debuted at #2 on the New York Times’ manga bestseller list, it was only on the list for a week and vol. 2 didn’t make the chart at all.  So it would appear unlikely that its sales will convince the publisher to broaden its offerings.  It still likely did better than “Wandering Island,” the only other manga published along similar lines from the company.  While it was clearly published as a heartfelt tribute to former Studio Proteus head Toren Smith (also the man who de-mystified manga licensing in the U.S.), one has to question the wisdom of putting out a title where it’s not even clear when, or even “if,” we’ll see its next volume.


Yes, there were other titles published by the company last year.  Most of them fell into the category of anime or other media tie-in, which I skipped because the quality tends to be pretty dire.  (Though I did pick up the latest volume of “The Shinji Ikari Raising Project” as I’m determined to see it through to the end.  And because I hate myself too.)  Looking ahead to 2017, things aren’t looking that much better.  While we’re getting the next two volumes of “Drifters” and hopefully vol. 38 of “Berserk” sometime next year, the only new titles on the horizon are its latest “Evangelion” spin-off (more on that after the break) and the manga adaptation of Lovecraft stories.  Maybe there will be some hopeful announcements by the time Anime Expo rolls around.  Until that happens, consider tie-ins to popular anime and videogames like “Danganronpa” and “Psycho-Pass” and the ever-popular Vocaloid to be the norm for the company going forward.

American Gods:  Shadows #1:  The TV series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel is one of the most anticipated shows for 2017.  It has an ex-convict named Shadow Moon who is recruited to be the bodyguard of a Mr. Wednesday, and soon finds himself thrust into a conflict between the old gods and the new.  That this would be getting a comic book adaptation/spinoff isn’t all that surprising.  What the big question for me is, “How involved is Gaiman in the making of this comic?”  He’s credited here as a co-writer along with P. Craig Russell, who is also providing the art for the series along with Scott Hampton.  Yet that could just be a formality because he wrote the book and Russell will be doing the majority of the writing for the comic book.  Much in the same way he adapted “Sandman:  The Dream Hunters” to comic form.  If Gaiman is actually co-writing this, then buying the collected edition becomes a no-brainer.  If he’s not… I might get it anyway.  Russell’s kind of a pretty good artist and Hampton’s art has always impressed me.


Groo:  Friends and Foes HC:  Absolutely worth reading for longtime fans of the character.  Not only do each the twelve issues collected here feature Groo meeting up with a member of his supporting cast (and causing them some kind of misfortune in the process), but they’re done in the classic mirth and moral style of the long-running Marvel/Epic incarnation of the series.  After so many miniseries where the title character took on different social ills, to mostly good comedic effect, it was refreshing to see Aragones and Evarnier get back to basics.  However, while this hardcover collects the three softcover volumes for $50, buying them individually will set you back $45.  If you think the hardcover is worth the extra $5, then you can pick this up when it comes out in May.


Jerry and the Joker:  Adventures in Comic Art by Jerry Robinson:  When he was seventeen, Jerry Robinson became the artist on “Batman” and gave us one of the most famous villains of all time:  The Joker.  This “art-infused memoir” is Robinson’s story of the creation and his life.  Why isn’t this being published by DC?  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s all the more surprising when you consider that the solicitation text promises that this book will feature never-before-seen art featuring Batman, Robin, and the Joker.  You’d think that they’d want to make sure something like that was coming out in a way that allowed them to have total control of it.


Mister X:  The Archives:  I’m not all that familiar with this series, aside from its reputation as an influential comics work from the 80’s.  It gets a mention here because Dark Horse originally published this volume as a $50 hardcover collecting the first fourteen issues.  That’s a bit pricey and so I passed on picking it up.  Now the same issues are being released in paperback for half as much.  Which is a lot more enticing by any rational standard.  Possibly enough to get me to pick it up to see if I can say anything more about this title beyond the fact that it’s “an influential comics work from the 80’s.”


Neon Genesis Evangelion: Legend of the Piko Piko Middle School Students vol. 1:  Yes, a series like this is likely what the future of manga publishing at Dark Horse looks like.  And God help me, rather than leave this on the shelf to send a message to the publisher, I’m actually going to pick it up.  Why?  This comes from Yushi Kawata and Yukito, two creators who have never had a series published in the U.S.  Aside from the parody comics they created for the “Evangelion Comic Tribute” which is one of the two “Evangelion” comics Dark Horse has published that I’d recommend to other people.  The premise here has Shinji, Rei, Asuka, Kaworu (and the rest…) playing videogames as a way to train them to fight against the Angels.  Think of it as “Ender’s Game” by way of “Evangelion” filter through the mindset of Japanese otaku, and the comic sensibilities of (I’d be surprised if this was anyone but) editor/adapter Carl Horn.  If manga publishing at Dark Horse is headed off a cliff, the best we can hope for is that this will make us laugh about it all the way down.


Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #1 (of 8) :  Brian Wood’s series about the Revolutionary War comes back for another round, with another protagonist and timeframe.  The year is 1794 and John Abbott, son original series protagonist Seth, joins up in the effort to build America’s first navy to contend with British aggression and high seas terrorism (read:  PIRATES!).  The first series was at its best when it was focusing on Seth’s adventures and would’ve been better served if it had focused on those alone.  While the stories told about other participants in the war were involving on their own terms, Seth’s story wound up feeling truncated at the end possibly due to the space given over to them.  This run of “Rebels” will be eight issues, hopefully focusing entirely on John and his adventures with the Navy.


Rise of the Black Flame:  In which Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson detail the title character’s backstory and turn him into an interesting villain for the first time.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping to read here.


Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes:  Yeah, it sounds incredibly cheesy when you first hear it.  Then you start thinking about it and it starts to make a certain kind of sense.  After which, you read the solicitation for it which has Tarzan and Caesar (the ape) starting out as brothers when they were young, only to be torn apart by society and then come to be on opposite sides of the war between man and ape.  That sounds awesome, and the fact that it’s coming from the very capable hands of writers Tim Seeley and David Walker really has me looking forward to this collection next year.

Assassination Classroom vol. 13

I found the start of the current arc in the previous volume to be pretty underwhelming and it gets even worse here!  It’s awful!  Horrible!  I’ve now lost all faith in this series and the world is now a dark and empty place because…  I’m just kidding about all that, really.  The conclusion to the “Grim Reaper” arc won’t win any points for originality, but it does a satisfying resolution here.  That’s mainly because we get to see Mr. Karasuma in full-on badass mode as he goes toe-to-toe with the Grim Reaper and comes out on top… with some inventive and elaborate help from Koro-sensei and the kids of Class E.  He also dishes out something that is as elusive as it is satisfying to witness:  a well-executed nutshot.  As for Ms. Vitch, her sudden-but-inevitable betrayal is followed up with an equally sudden-but-inevitable redemption as she switches sides just in time to turn the tide and is subsequently welcomed back by the kids and Mr. Karasuma.  On the bright side, subsequent chapters show that she’s no longer dressing with the sole intent of providing fanservice for the reader, so that’s a plus.


The second half of this volume is much more interesting as Koro-sensei engages in some career counseling with his students.  While this allows for some amusing vignettes that help to flesh out some of the lesser-developed characters in the series so far, Nagisa winds up being the focus of this arc.  Not only is the issue of his potential as an assassin addressed head-on here, but we also see how he developed those kinds of skills in the first place.  They were necessary for dealing with his mom who is DETERMINED that her son get out of Class E so he can get into a good college (the one she didn’t get into) and get a job a a prestigious trading company (the one that didn’t hire her).  Nagisa’s mom is a frightening character because her borderline-psychotic mood swings are grounded in all-too-familiar fears and insecurities.  While she’s the perfect kind of antagonist for this series, mangaka Yusei Matsui pushes the visual representation of her mood swings a bit too far as they don’t suggest an individual who would be placated by the resolution presented here.  Still, the arc is worthwhile for the additional insight it provides into Nagisa’s character and the next one looks quite promising as Class E faces off again against Class A to have the most profitable booth at the upcoming school festival.


Grant Morrison has a well-deserved reputation as an ideas man.  So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that he came up with the idea of doing an origin story for Santa Claus that takes the character back to his Germanic and Viking-related origins.  Klaus was a captain in the Grimsvig guard until he was driven out by treachery.  Returning years later as a hunter who is looking to sell his wares, Klaus finds that the town at yuletime is without cheer.  This has happened under the rule of the bitterly scheming Lord Magnus who has also seized all the toys in town for his own ungrateful son.  What’s to be done about this?  Well, Klaus does have his own skill as a toymaker and his skills as a former guardsman turn out to be quite useful for sneaking into the town and running around on its rooftops.  Where things go next are a mix of the obvious and unexpected, actually.

Stories that deal with Santa’s non-mythological past are pretty rare, but not quite unheard of.  The innovation Morrison has brought to this story essentially involves recasting the character as a superhero.  Klaus is the lone hero fighting against an oppressive regime to bring happiness and joy for all.  Yet when his human limits finally catch up with him, Klaus transcends them in a way that fuses the idea of worker elves with an alien abduction story.  This happens towards the end of the story, but it allows the narrative to go off in a joyously crazy direction as Klaus becomes a living myth in order to beat the living crap out of the Krampus.


Yes, the evil anti-Santa of legend is in this story too.  Why?  Likely because Morrison rightly hit upon the thought that Good Santa vs. Evil Santa was too awesome of an idea to pass up here.  He’s absolutely right as their fight is a highlight of the book that further underscores the writer’s approach to the title character as superhero.  By the end of the story, Klaus has his powers, an arch-enemy, and a badass other-dimensional sleigh pulled by wolves (a change the writer has admitted because he felt it made for a more badass visual).  Cynics may scoff, but the idea just feels right seeing it on the page.  Watching Klaus leap into action against Krampus while exclaiming “THERE ARE NO BAD CHILDREN!” is as glorious a superhero moment as anything you’ll read in “One-Punch Man” this year.


I’d like to say everything in this story works just as well, except that’s not quite the case.  Some of this does feel like Morrison is indulging his usual reality-bending tendencies.  While I liked the elves/aliens conflation here, people less familiar with the writer’s work may be confused by what’s going on there.  Others may just go, “That’s Morrison being Morrison” again.  I can see why they’d say that, but their criticism would be better directed at a moment later on where Klaus’ sleigh is referred to as a bright machine from the eight-colored orb.  Whatever that means.


A good deal of the writer’s dialogue also comes off as feeling more expository in nature rather than something actual people would say.  Bits like the exchanges between Klaus and the barkeep and town guards when he returns to Grimsvig, as well as a good portion of Magnus’ exchanges with his wife and child feel stilted in that their only purpose was to explicitly convey information.  Not all the dialogue is like this, thankfully, even if this does seem to be a trend within his creator-owned books as of late.


I’d also knock the writer for the generally predictable arc of this story, but that would be selling his work here short.  Klaus’ rise, fall, and transcendence as savior of Grimsberg pretty much plays out as you’d expect.  Yet it’s still involving because Morrison does the proper work in developing his cast.  Klaus himself is as fierce and courageous a protagonist you could want for this kind of story, and one who isn’t without a sense of fun regarding the work he’s committed to doing.  There are also some nice “A-ha!” moments regarding the Santa mythos, such as where he gets the idea to make his deliveries via chimneys.  Just as impressive is the work done with Magnus, who initially comes off as a dark-hued villain that is Evil with a capital “E.”  That would be all well and good for this kind of story, except that Morrison knows that there’s still something human in the worst of us.  By the end of his role in the story, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit sad for the man and how he wound up that way.


Though Morrison’s name may have been what drew me to this project, there’s no denying that the art from Dan Mora helps make all of this craziness work on the page.  Mora’s work boasts an impressive level of detail that’s evident from the first few pages, and he can pull off an impressive psychedelic freakout as well.  (I imagine this is something Morrison looks for in all of the artists he works with.)  The artist also has a great eye for action, with a frantic chase between Klaus and the Grimsvig guard late in the story being an adrenaline-fueled standout.  I also appreciated how easy-to-follow his storytelling was, with many of the big moments of the story easily standing out on the page.  That “A-ha!” moment I mentioned about Klaus and chimneys?  It’s a two-page spread that works because of how clear it is to grasp the idea as Mora illustrates it.


“Klaus” is an energetic, joyous reinvention of Santa that really only trips over some clunky expositional dialogue along the way.  Portraying St. Nick as a superhero feels so right in the way it’s developed by Morrison and rendered by Mora.  You may wonder why no one has thought to do something like this before, but I’m glad we got to see these talented creators do it first.  The fact that there’s more to come from their take on this subject — the “Klaus and the Witch of Winter” one-shot is shipping soon — comes off as more welcome holiday cheer.

The Fix vol. 1: Where Beagles Dare

…and at the other end of Nick Spencer’s skillset is this new creator-owned crime series with artist Steve Lieber, his partner-in-crime on “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.”  That was one of my favorite Marvel series of recent years and I was really looking forward to seeing what they could do when not working within the constraints of a corporate-owned shared superhero universe.  The results are pretty funny as we follow two corrupt cops, Roy and Mac, who are in for a lot of money to a crime boss whose love of clean living and natural foods is matched only by his psychopathic nature.  In order to make this debt go away, they’ve just got to find a way to smuggle something through the Los Angeles International Airport.  Problem is that puts them up against the most feared customs agent, with six hundred arrests and two tons of contraband seized in the past year, the airport has to offer:  A beagle named Pretzels.


Much as it was with “Superior Foes,” a lot of the fun and comedy of this series comes from seeing how its protagonists are just clever enough to avoid getting killed because of their antics, but not smart enough to actually learn anything from their experiences.  We see this right off the bat when Roy and Mac rob a retirement home with complications from a shotgun-wielding resident, and then wind up blowing their winnings betting on underground battlebot competitions.  Their subsequent exploits involve Roy shooting Mac in his hand so that he can get a transfer, Roy framing a too-good-to-be-true officer for murder, and Mac trying to bond with Pretzels despite the fact that the dog instinctively knows his partner is up to no good.  These antics are bound up with some scathingly cynical digressions about the current state of crime, why you should never trust the nicest guy around, and what teen stars are really groomed for.  Thanks to Spencer’s gleefully incisive dialogue and Lieber’s instinctive knowledge for when to go deadpan and when to go cartoonish with the art, it all winds up being an unscrupulously funny experience.


Assuming that you’re even in the mood to find the misadventures of a couple of corrupt cops funny in this current day and age.  With all of the police-related shootings that make the headlines these days it’s understandable that some readers will likely be put off by the very concept of the series.  Others might get to the point where Roy waxes nostalgic about how being able to shoot whoever you want (sometimes) was one of the reasons he decided to be a cop and decide that’s crossing a line.  I can also see some of Spencer’s more eccentric bits, such as Roy’s producer friend who is trying to resist the urge to make his own semen part of his diet, turning people off as well.  The majority of this volume is made up of the good stuff I described in the previous paragraph, however, so if you can put aside the things described here then you’re likely to find this quite entertaining.  Or maybe just go read “Superior Foes” if you’re looking for a more tasteful dose of Spencer and Lieber’s storytelling.