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 : 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.