Monthly Archives: January 2017

Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn vol. 6

Why haven’t I talked about this series in a while?  That’s because it really hasn’t risen above the harmless the first volume offered.  I went into this series, based on a concept from Masamune Shirow but with the manga actually by “Excel Saga’s” Rikudou Koshi, fully expecting a trainwreck and didn’t get that.  Instead, “Pandora” has been a light action comedy following the hijinks that full-body prosthetic cyborg Nene and her android compainon Nene get up to on the high-tech island of Centacle.  What makes it interesting to write about now is that things look to be building towards a climax.


While the massive mining machine known as Buer was successfully deactivated by Nene and Clarion back in vol. 2, Col. Kurtz (no, really) of the American Empire has been steadily and stealthily working to re-activate it and bring it under his control.  He believes that having such a weapon will allow him to impose the order and control needed to bring stability to the world.  Though Kurtz has the Empire’s massive resources to draw on, including a burly combat android named Fear (because the A.E. isn’t big on subtlety, y’know), they’ll still have to go through Clarion if they want to re-activate Buer.  If they do manage that, then it’s a good thing Nene, without any combat enhancements, is on her way to the action to save her friend.  Right?


Even with the raising of stakes, there’s still plenty of goofy lighthearted fun to be had in this volume.  Among other things:  Perpetually doomed reporter Vlind makes nice with some robots, Nene does her best malfunctioning advertising robot impression, and we get some cute videogame homages as she infiltrates cyberspace.  The most impressive parts of this volume, however, are the fight scenes between Clarion and Fear.  Comedy may be Koushi’s calling, but he stages some really impressive action between these two which helps bring the drama as things look to be wrapping up.  While “Pandora” can’t really hold a candle to Koushi and Shirow’s best-known series, it’s still well-executed fluff that anyone who likes cute girls, androids, and cute girl androids would enjoy if they decided to check it out.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: April 2017

There’s not really much to say about the company’s business above the board this month.  Unless you’re interested to know that they’ll be publishing an omnibus of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Season Eight” later this year.  So it’s time to come back to my favorite talking point with the company:  manga.  I’m bringing it up once again because “Wave, Listen to Me!”, the latest series from Hiroaki Samura (creator of “Blade of the Immortal”) came out last Tuesday.  It’s about a waitress at a curry shop whose heartbroken drunken rambling at a bar leads to her getting a talk show on a local radio station.  The first volume is an energetic read, best appreciated by those familiar with Samura’s quirky and referential humor.


What it isn’t is published by Dark Horse.  Kodansha Comics released this digitally and it’s their second title from Samura after “Die Wergelder” came out back at the end of 2015.  While “Blade of the Immortal,” “Ohikkoshi,” and “Emerald” are likely not leaving Dark Horse, it would appear that Kodansha has secured Samura’s future output for themselves.  I’ve said before that without titles from new artists, all Dark Horse has to rely on going forward are license rescues, media tie-ins, and titles from creators they’ve already published.  With the publication of “Wave,” along with Kosuke Fujishima’s “Paradise Residence” and “Toppu GP,” it would appear that seeing more from that last category is looking increasingly unlikely.

Abe Sapien vol. 9:  Lost Lives and Other Stories:  FINALLY!  If you’re like me, then you’ve noticed that the collections of Abe’s ongoing series have had numerous gaps in them.  This is because those missing issues were one-offs from different artists which (apparently) had no relevance to the main story.  I’d been wondering when we’d be seeing a collection of them and now I have my answer.  So once June rolls around, we’ll finally get to see how the likes of Michael Avon Oeming, Kevin Nowlan, and Juan Ferreyra tackle Mignola’s iconic character and his adventures.


The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Expanded Edition) HC:  Hrm…  Much like with that new edition of Greg Rucka’s work on “Detective Comics,” Faith Erin Hicks’ fun take on the challenges (both super and not) faced by a female superhero is expanded.  I already bought the first edition of this, and based on the solicitation text it doesn’t look like this new one is going to be substantially larger.  If you’re wondering, the new edition is described as featuring two new stories and a gallery of pin-ups from other creators.  I have no problems recommending this to people who didn’t pick it up the first time around, but I think I’ll wait to see if I can snag this at a deep discount before replacing my existing copy.


Aliens:  Dead Orbit #1 (of 4):  New work from James Stokoe is not as frequent an occurrence as I’d like.  So even if his latest work isn’t new issues of “Orc Stain” (still holding the faith that it’ll come back at some point) I’m still onboard to see him tackle this particular franchise.  The premise is simple:  An engineering officer is stuck on a space station after a xenomorph outbreak and must use all of his available tools to survive.  I have faith that Stokoe will be able to mine the maximum amount of tension from this setup along with some fantastically detailed art to pore over as well.  Also, after his work on “Godzilla:  The Half-Century War” showed how he can still bring his A-game to licensed titles, I’ll be expecting as much here.


The Art of Splatoon HC:  Dark Horse’s partnership with Nintendo continues to roll along with this artbook for the hit title on the Wii U.  It’ll also likely be out in time to capitalize on the arrival of the sequel for the Switch in the summer.  I’m going to pass since the first game wasn’t my thing.  But if Dark Horse wants to put out one of the “Xenoblade” artbooks (either for the first game or “X”) then you can expect that I’ll have already pre-ordered my copy before I sit down to write about it.


ElfQuest:  The Final Quest vol. 3:  Vol. 2 promised a major revelation and it delivered on that point.  The problem is that said revelation was also a huge retcon that also made me go, “Why?”  Still, it did set things up so that the narrative may wind up being more focused starting with this volume.  If that’s the case, then maybe it’ll have been worth it.  Still, unless you’re already onboard with “ElfQuest” then you should stay far away from this continuity-dense series and bone up on its history through “The Complete” volumes instead.


Empowered vol. 10:  I had honestly forgot that we were due for a new volume after the last one came out in 2015, so seeing this in these solicitations was a pleasant surprise.  The solicitation text offers a minor (but welcome) spoiler in that Emp is now a full-time member of the Superhomeys.  After all that she went through in vol. 9, that sounds like the very least she deserved.  Of course, if you’re expecting that she’ll be able to take it easy after having been made an actual member of the world’s (Finest?  Best?  MOST BADICAL!) superhero team then that’s likely to not be the case.  Particularly since the solicitation text also promises the revelation of a “lover’s dark secret.”  For longtime readers of the series, that can only mean one thing (and likely a brutal cliffhanger too).


Hatsune Miku:  Acute:  You know what the “Vocaloid” franchise was missing up until now?  FEELZ!  At least that’s the impression I’m getting from the description of this volume which has three Vocaloids, Miku, Kaito, and Luka, collaborating on a song that will only bring sorrow.  It’s based on a video which accumulated 4.4 million (combined) views on YouTube and NicoNico.  Which, frankly, sounds like chump change compared to some of the views other viral videos I’ve seen on YouTube have posted.  Yes, I realize that was mean.  But whenever I see a new Vocaloid title from Dark Horse I can’t help but think, “Behold the future of manga at Dark Horse!”


The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century:  Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ series-of-miniseries about a female African-American soldier in a future dystopia was originally published in a pricey hardcover a few years back.  I have two volumes of this series in my collection, so I was hesitant to shell out for that edition.  Now that the entire series is being reprinted in a full-size paperback edition for $30, I’m much more inclined to add it to my library.


The Shaolin Cowboy:  Who’ll Stop the Reign #1 (of 4):  The first collection of the title character’s adventures was the very definition of style over substance.  It was fun to pore over Geof Darrow’s insanely detailed depictions of how the Cowboy would slaughter all the zombies before him, and that was it.  Also, the ending really put a damper on things and gives every impression that this series is going to be a prequel.  Or maybe not because I kinda doubt that Darrow is the kind of person who gives a fuck about continuity.  As long as the art and action are amazing, that’s all that will matter.


Usagi Yojimbo vol. 31:  The Hell Screen:  A new volume of “Usagi” is always something to look forward to.  This volume also features the sooner-than-expected return of Inspector Ishida as he investigates the mystery of the title object — a “ghastly” painting.  You can always expect a good mystery, murder or otherwise, when this character is involved.

Marvel Previews Picks: April 2017

The main reason we see so many spin-off titles in comics is because they tend to represent the safest bet of all.  If you liked Title X, then it stands to reason you’ll like Title Xa, Xb, and Xc as well.  This kind of approached worked really well during the 90’s (it’s how we wound up with four concurrent “Punisher” for a while) but has fallen out of favor in recent years.  The cold hard truth of the market still hasn’t stopped publishers from trying to find new titles to spin off into their own mini-franchise, however.  “Black Panther” is currently the main beneficiary of this kind of thinking with the first issue of “Black Panther:  The Crew” debuting in these solicitations along with the latest issues of “Black Panther” proper, and “World of Wakanda.”


To Marvel’s credit, they managed to get current “Black Panther” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to co-write the spinoff titles, so they can’t be immediately dismissed as superfluous to the main one.  Yet it’s hard not to think that the only reason the latter two titles exist is because Marvel saw the over 300K sales of the first issue of “Black Panther” last year and thought that there was a giant demand for more comics about the character and his world.  What it likely represented was a certain amount of pent-up fan demand after T’Challa had been without a solo title for several years, and anticipation surrounding his cinematic debut in “Captain America:  Civil War.”  Currently, “World of Wakanda” is outselling “Black Panther” as the latter title closes in on monthly sales that are a tenth of its debut issue.  It’s all but certain the spin-off will sink below its parent title in a few months, which makes the idea of launching a second spin-off a really dubious idea at this point.


Coates has discussed his long-term plans for “Black Panther,” so I’m sure that will continue for a while.  I’d like to be wrong, but I have a feeling that “World of Wakanda” and “The Crew’s” lasting contributions to the “Black Panther” mythos will mainly be in providing evidence for a time when he had three ongoing titles at once.  If you think I should be wrong, then pick up a copy of all three titles when “The Crew” debuts in April.

X-Men:  Blue #’s 1-2, X-Men:  Gold #1, All-New Wolverine #19, Weapon X #’s 1-2:  Speaking of spin-offs, “ResurrXion,” the latest re-shuffling of the “X-Men” titles kicks off in these solicitations with new names for the core titles that are specifically designed to recall the franchise’s commercial high point from the 90’s.  Briefly:  “Blue” is the title about the time-lost team from writer Cullen Bunn who now have Magneto as their leader, “Gold” is made up of mostly familiar faces (Kitty Pryde, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Old Man Logan, Prestige — I said “mostly”) from Marc Guggenheim, Laura gets a new costume in “Wolverine,” and “Weapon X” is the “X-Force” surrogate book about bad mutants facing an even worse threat from the title organization, courtesy of Greg Pak.  Frankly, all of this sounds fine to me.  It’s just that I’m a longtime “X-Men” fan and, barring some awful creative downturn, I’ll keep reading them.  As for anyone who might be interested, I’d say you can give this latest re-shuffle a pass for now.


Monsters Unleashed #1:  The numbers aren’t even in for Marvel’s latest event series and they’ve already greenlit an ongoing title based on it.  This does not seem particularly wise.  Mainly because the appeal for the event looks to be seeing some of Marvel’s best artists tackle their monster characters.  Which is good for a five-issue mini, but its appeal diminishes when it’s presented on an ongoing basis with an artist, David Baldeon, whose name doesn’t carry the same draw as, say, McNiven, Yu, or Kubert.  Cullen Bunn is writing the ongoing (as well as the event), and I hope he has a solid year of stories planned for this because that’s all he’ll be likely to get.


Infamous Iron Man #7:  In which Victor Von Doom meets The Maker, A.K.A. “Evil Reed Richards from the Ultimate Universe.”  Even though Bendis created this character back in “Ultimate Doomsday,” he hasn’t done anything with him since.  Jonathan Hickman and Al Ewing have done an excellent job in establishing the character’s evil genius credentials over the years.  This development is likely to be ignored as I’m betting Bendis is latching onto the idea of “Good Doctor Doom” vs. “Evil Reed Richards” for this story, arc, whatever it is.  Not that that’s a bad idea for a story, but I’m not expecting to see a take on The Maker which lines up with what Hickman and Ewing have done with him.


Deadpool vs. The Punisher #’s 1-2 (of 5):  Now here’s a fight I’d be willing to invest money in.  Yes, it’s another in the endless string of “Deadpool” miniseries that Marvel loves to put out, but they’ve found a worthy foil for the character in putting him up against Frank Castle.  Even when he’s put in explicitly comedic stories, Castle remains the same stoic man of few words that he is when the material he’s given is more dramatic.  Pitting him against the loquacious comic hurricane that is Deadpool seems like a perfect match-up.  The story may be dead simple — they’re fighting over the fate of a minor criminal — yet I’m sure writer Fred Van Lente will get some good material out of this.


Star Wars:  Rogue One Adaptation #1 (of 6):  It’s adapting the film, so I’m not interested.  That is, unless it incorporates some of the numerous scenes that were said to have been left on the cutting room floor after last summer’s reshoots.


Black Panther vol. 1:  A Nation Under Our Feet HC:  Had I known this was coming (and I really should’ve realized that it was), I would’ve passed on picking up the first three paperback volumes.  This edition collects the entirety of the title story and anyone interested in reading it is advised to wait for this to come out before you do.  It’s a collection of a twelve-issue arc — best read all at once than in piecemeal four-issue chunks.


Champions vol. 1:  Change the World:  Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos team up to unleash a new teen team on the Marvel Universe.  I’m skeptical that these heroes’ plans to enact real change will come to fruition, but Waid has been writing superhero comics long enough to recognize this limitation.  I’ve got a pretty good feeling he’ll find a way around it.  What I’m more interested in seeing is how he’ll use Viv Vision here since her role in Tom King’s “Vision” series didn’t give any indication that she’d work particularly well in the wider Marvel Universe.  Waid obviously thinks differently, and there’s some potential for family drama as Vision is currently a member of the writer’s “Avengers” team.  There’s a lot of potential here, so we’ll see how much of it is realized once this volume comes out.


Jessica Jones vol. 1:  Uncaged:  I know I didn’t have many kind words for Bendis above, but here he’s returning to one of his biggest triumphs in the Marvel Universe with original artist Michael Gaydos.  Either it’ll be a glorious achievement which shows you really can go home again, or further evidence that the writer has lost it.  Mind you, this title just being “okay” or a “complete trainwreck” would both qualify as evidence of the latter.  That’s just how good “Alias” was.

DC Previews Picks: April 2017

DC is making good on their promise to deliver more “Watchmen”-related stories in the DCU with these solicitations.  A four-part crossover between “Batman” and “The Flash” called “The Button” has the “World’s Greatest Detective” and the “Fastest Man Alive” teaming up to find out the mystery of the iconic bloodstained smiley-face button and how it found its way into the Batcave.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that DC is being very tight-lipped over the details of this story, though the button is said to attract the interest of an unwelcome third party, “and it’s not who anyone suspects!”  I was more interested to see that DC used the same solicitation text for all four issues of this crossover.  Usually, in these kind of events, there will be some kind of vague hinting at what happens in subsequent issues, but not here.  So if you’ve been anticipating (or like me, dreading) the further integration of “Watchmen” into the DCU, then your wait will be over come April.  Best of luck to writers Tom King and Joshua Williamson in making this story work — they’re going to need it!

Harley Quinn #’s 17-18:  Yeah, I had to go down a ways to find something that caught my attention.  It’s not that all of the solicitations before this look bad, just that everything looks to be ticking along with the usual amount of timeliness and hyperbole.  Which isn’t very interesting to write about.  Where was I going with this?  Oh right, Paul Dini is writing Harley Quinn again.  Well, the backup story for these issues, and he’s doing it with the title’s regular co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti.  What’s the hook?  Harley accidentally gives away the location of the Joker’s hideout.  I imagine Mistah J is going to be pretty angry about that.  It’s bad news for Harley, but a solid hook for a story featuring her.  Which is all you really need when doing a backup story.


Wonder Woman #’s 20-21:  Okay, the alternating stories each month for this title made sense when one of them was the flashback “Year One” arc.  Now we’ve got “Godwatch” and “The Truth” running concurrently.  I’ll admit that I haven’t been paying attention to how these arcs are structured (Are they both taking place in the present?  Is “Godwatch” another flashback arc?) but I’m more surprised writer Greg Rucka isn’t just telling one story with the twice-monthly format.  Anyway, I have faith in him and the format of these stories will make more sense once they’re collected.  Speaking of which “Wonder Woman vol. 2:  Year One” is solicited here as well.


Batman/The Shadow #1 (of 6):  Wait, are you telling me that these two characters haven’t teamed up before?  They’ve been published for over 75 years (each) and the former even served as an inspiration for the latter.  How has this not happened already!  Well, come this April DC and Dynamite will have addressed this great cosmic irregularity with the killer creative team of writers Scott Snyder (likely just onboard as a co-plotter) and Steve Orlando (likely co-plotting as well, while doing the heavy lifting of scripting each issue), and artist Riley Rossmo.  The plot bringing these characters together also sounds pretty cool:  A murder in Gotham points to one Lamont Cranston (The Shadow’s civilian identity) as the culprit… only he’s been dead for the past 50 years.  As Batman tries to unravel the mystery of Cranston’s life, The Shadow has his own plans for the Caped Crusader.


Doom Patrol vol. 1:  Brick by Brick:  After the first two volumes of “The Umbrella Academy,” I was really looking forward to seeing more comics work from Gerard Way.  However, his work since then has been relatively sparse, likely owing to his day job as a rock musician.  Now he’s overseeing the Young Animal imprint and writing this latest iteration of “Doom Patrol” which is said to be drawing from many previous runs (particularly Grant Morrison’s defining one), new directions, and things that cannot be.  I’m all for that, but I’ll be reading this to see if the promise of Way’s early creator-owned work can carry over to work-for-hire superhero product.


Batman:  New Gotham vol. 1:  Hrm…  I’m frustrated by the issues collected here, which consist of the start of Greg Rucka’s run post-“No Man’s Land” on “Detective Comics” #’s 742-753.  The reason for this is that DC published a similar volume years ago that only collected issues 742-750.  There was even a “vol. 1” tag on it, indicating that they were likely going to collect the rest of Rucka’s run, but that came to an end with the crossover “Officer Down” in vol. 2.  Anyway, it looks like if I want to support the collection of the rest of the writer’s run then I’m going to have to buy a collection featuring a lot of issues I already own.  Or go out and find issues 751-753, which is more appealing to me at this point.


The DC Universe by Mike Mignola HC:  Mignola doesn’t have too many fond words for his work with Marvel and DC before he went the creator-owned route and gave us “Hellboy.”  So the existence of this collection is likely going to cause him no small amount of personal pain.  Or, he’ll just shrug, roll his eyes, and get back to refining his current style when he’s not busy writing.  If you’re a fan of the man’s work, however, then this volume will likely prove irresistible to you.  Mainly so you can have objective proof of how much better he became as an artist over the years.


Suicide Squad vol. 6:  The Phoenix Gambit:  The most recent volume, “Apokolips Now,” was another fun collection of the team’s classic adventures which provided further evidence of how well this series has held up since it was originally published in the 80’s.  It ended with Amanda Waller in jail and most of the team’s surviving members scattered to the four winds.  We all know that status quo isn’t going to last very long.  What gets my attention here is that the solicitation text tells us that Waller is going to have to team up with Batman to bring the team back together.  What the hell kind of threat could be big enough to have these two team up to resurrect the Suicide Squad?  That’s something I’d really like to know.


Everafter vol. 1:  The Pandora Protocol:  I thought I knew what I was going to write about regarding the first volume of this latest spin-off from “Fables.”  Then I saw that it was being co-written by an unfamiliar name — Lilah Sturges.  The fact that Matthew Sturges, frequent collaborator with Bill Willingham on a number of “Fables”-related projects, was the main selling point for me on this project.  So what happened here?  It’s a sign of the times that my first thought was that Sturges had come out as trans, and a quick internet search confirmed that.  This doesn’t affect my decision to pick up this volume in any way, but I will say that to anyone who is interested in this series and would like to see future volumes, you should do the same as soon as this comes out.


Hellblazer vol. 16:  The Wild Card:  And we go from the best “Hellblazer” run (Azzarello’s) to the least, written by Mike Carey.  I was expecting a lot more from the writer’s run than what I wound up getting.  Mainly because Carey approached the title like a superhero story, bringing in lots of guest stars at certain points, and making lots of callbacks to prior events.  That’s not what I wanted to see in “Hellblazer” with the callbacks being awkwardly done, at best.  Carey’s a good enough writer to provide some memorable stories, but the writers who followed him — Denise Mina, Andy Diggle, and Peter Milligan — all did better justice to the character and his history afterward.

Brief thoughts on a couple of manga about sucking.

Two volumes in and I’m still involved in following the ongoing disintegration of Makoto Okazaki’s life as he adapts to the changes that his newfound vampirism have wrought in “Happiness.”  Some of these are good, as Okazaki now has a girl friend and is currently best buds with his former bully after saving that guy from his own tormentors.  This is in spite of the fact that he has yet to give into his craving for blood, which kind of stretches credibility in a story about vampirism.  It’s clear that mangaka Shuzo Oshimi is going for a slow burn as to how these changes affect her protagonist, but I’m left wishing she’d hurry things up at this point.  She does do a good job of selling the ordinariness of Okazaki’s life, which makes it all the more interesting to see the brutal violence that forces its way into it when some older bullies and a new vampire make their presence known.  That said, the thing that got me the most about this volume was Oshimi’s artistic experimentation as she demonstrates a surprising amount of creativity in

her style and layouts as she dramatizes the severity of Okazaki’s cravings on the page.  Which is all well and good, though it makes his resistance to sucking blood that much harder to believe.


For a more figurative take on the concept of sucking, we go now to the latest dispatch from the life of Punpun Onodera in “Goodnight Punpun.”  In my review of the last volume, I expressed disappointment with how easy it was becoming to expect the worst from the character’s life in any given situation.  Mangaka Inio Asano decides to abandon that race to the bottom as Punpun moves out of his married uncle’s apartment and pursues menial part-time work.  It’s a mundane, boring life where he doesn’t hurt or get hurt by anyone.  That changes when he meets up with Sachi a tutor and artist who eventually draws him out of his shell and into a romantic relationship with her drive to capture his creativity and create a manga.  While this is a good thing for the character, the tone of the story doesn’t give off the feeling that everything will be sunshine and roses from here on out.  Particularly since Aiko, the love of Punpun’s life, is still lurking around the edges of the story.  What’s here is still a nice diversion as Asano shows that this series doesn’t have to be relentlessly depressing to be interesting.

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol. 3 — Civil War II

Didn’t I review the previous volume around a month ago?  Well, here’s the next one which follows up on the fallout from “Standoff” while also tying into the events of “Civil War II.”  With regards to the former issue, now that Steve Rogers has been de-aged the question becomes whether or not he’ll take back the shield and his former title?  Then, as “Civil War II” picks up steam, Sam finds himself delivering the eulogy to the fallen James Rhodes and forced to choose a side between the opposing views of Captain Marvel and Iron Man.  If that wasn’t enough, he also finds himself drawn into the conflict between the new private police force known as the Americops and the former Avenger Rage.  Oh, and the conservative backers of the Americops have also called in James “USAgent” Walker to convince Sam to give back the shield with his fists.  Because that would be best for America.


If you are looking for escapist superhero reading, then this volume of “Sam Wilson” is not for you.  This isn’t the first time that writer Nick Spencer has thrust the character into some hot-button issues, but this is the first time where their relevance is keenly felt.  While the Americops are clearly made out to be the bad guys here, they’re still authorized law-enforcement officials, so Rage’s plan to fight them head-on is only going to make things worse.  So it’s up to Sam to find a way to thread the needle in this situation and take on USAgent when he rears his head.  This makes for a compelling read, and the event-tie in stuff is also handled pretty well too, that does fizzle out a bit at the end as Sam’s plan for dealing with this issue is told to the reader rather than shown.  We still get some solid art from Angel Unzueta, beautiful art from Daniel Acuna (nice to see that he wasn’t rushed here) and some delicious moments of treachery from Steve Rogers.  Steve’s actions here will only come off as contradictory if you haven’t been reading his solo title, and aren’t aware of his current status as a Hydra agent.  If you have, then it’s a great use of dramatic irony as the character plays both ends against the middle, fanning the flames of conflict between Sam and his antagonists.  Maybe it isn’t the most upbeat read, but “Sam Wilson” does an excellent job of tapping into the zeitgeist now.

Renato Jones: The One % — Season One

Am I in the mood for a new Image series from writer/artist Kaare Andrews about a vigilante who goes around murdering the most decadent and depraved of the upper class?  You better believe it!  In this post-Great Recession era (which is also the dawn of the Trump administration), I didn’t have to work hard to get myself in the mood for some violently stylized wish fulfillment against the people with all the money and power.  For the first two issues, I got what I wanted.  We get Renato’s “secret origin” and find out just why he’s bent on taking out the worst of the one percent even though he’s part of their circle as well.  It starts with a bro-tastically sleazy hedge-fund manager with some very unsavory hobbies, and continues to a Trump stand-in real-estate mogul who is attending a party where every appetite is indulged.  Andrews is a very talented visual stylist who does some very eye-catching work here, sometimes at the expense of coherence on the page.  Yet while the violence is frequently (and sometimes literally) eye-popping, the best moment in the volume has a one-percenter committing suicide when given an ultimatum to go live a normal life and work a nine-to-five or else.  It’s as credible a moment as it is cathartic.


Starting with issue three, however, the action slows down and the manic energy of those first two issues starts to dissipate.  Andrews starts to focus more on Jones’ history and character, that of his childhood trust-fund friend Bliss, and introducing the douchebaggiest of Batman analogues Wicked-Awesome.  While the creator’s attempts to add depth to his characters and their world would normally be appreciated in another more sane series, it winds up sapping the wish-fulfillment joy of this one.  Plus, by the end of the volume the title character hasn’t emerged as someone who is interesting to read about beyond the outrageousness of his quest.  There are still some impressive visuals to behold from Andrews, but I’m left wishing that he had gone all-in on style over substance for this vengeance-fueled class warfare fantasy.

Black Panther vol. 2: A Nation Under Our Feet — Book 2

Two volumes in and it’s becoming even more clear that the overall quality of this storyline is going to depend on how well writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sticks the landing in the next volume.  This second volume does suffer a bit as it’s the middle of the story and nothing is beginning or ending here.  Things continue on after the terrorist attack at the Birnin Zana city square that left many people dead and T’Challa’s mother in critical condition.  T’Challa starts enlisting outside help on how to deal with the terror problem in his country while Tetu, Zenzi, and Ezekiel Stane continue their efforts to foment rebellion in Wakanda.  Meanwhile, T’Challa’s sister Shuri continues her journey through the Djalla, the plane of Wakanda’s collective memory.


While he hasn’t completely turned the tables, the book’s best moments come when we get to see how clever T’Challa can be when taking on the bad guys.  It was cool to see him outmaneuver Stane at one point and deduce just what has happened to Shuri after she was placed in suspension.  The guest appearance by the members of The Crew also lent the book some much needed superhero energy.


I say that this energy was “much needed” because it’s also clear that Coates is still finding his footing as a comic book writer.  He’s best-known for his essay writing and reading through the copious amounts of dialogue and text captions on each page makes you feel like he’s trying to do the same in comic form.  It doesn’t really work and the series’ pace has suffered for it.  Weirdly, the numerous Wakandan folk tales he creates here feel rushed, and half-finished.  Even though this volume has a new artist in Chris Sprouse, his slick and angular style is still great to look at and maintains some artistic consistency with Brian Stelfreeze.  I’ve heard that Coates has plans for a second and possibly third year of “Black Panther,” but it seems that I’ll  have to wait until vol. 3 comes out before I can see about getting excited for that news.

Batman vol. 10: Epilogue

You know what they say about all good things, right?  Technically, the finale to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on “Batman” was the conclusion to the “Superheavy” arc in vol. 9.  This one just collects their final issue together, some assorted odds and ends relating to the “New 52” era of the title, and the “Batman:  Rebirth” issue which serves as the transition to Tom King’s run.  So if you’re thinking that “Epilogue” is a major cash-grab on DC’s part towards everyone who wants the entirety of the Snyder/Capullo run collected on their bookshelf, I really couldn’t blame you.  At least while the creators’ final issue is quite spectacular, the rest of the stories here are also (mostly) decent enough as well.

Things get started on the right note with the best of the other issues collected here, the tie-in to the “Future’s End” weekly series which showcased a dystopian DC Universe five years from now.  In Batman’s case, he’s a nearly broken shell of himself who is only sustained through cybernetic implants and is trying to find a way to preserve his legacy before his body fails him completely.  This leads him to attempt a very entertaining heist on Lexcorp headquarters which has Batman trying to navigate and evade some of the most complex and lethal security on the planet.


Snyder co-plotted this issue with Ray Fawkes, who also wrote the script.  Art is from Aco, who tells the story well enough, even though the action in his panels gets overly crowded towards the end.  Fawkes gives us a very resourceful Batman who is up to the challenge of facing off against Lex Luthor’s security measures while also showing that the intervening years have hardened his resolve into ways that are not altogether mentally healthy.  He also has good fun with writing the dialogue for Luthor’s security hologram, resulting in lines like, “Resourceful, brilliant, and tragically misguided.  I’m going to guess that you’re Batman.  Am I right?”  It’s also worth noting that even if the events of this issue represent an alternate future that never came to be, Batman’s plan will be quite familiar to anyone who has read the previous volume (specifically, the Sean Murphy-illustrated bonus story).


Next up is the fourth “Batman Annual” from frequent Snyder collaborator (and current “Detective Comics” writer) James Tynion IV, and artist Roge Antonio who does his darndest to channel Rafael Albuquerque in his art.  It takes place during the “Superheavy” arc and has the amnesiac Bruce Wane dealing with Wayne Manor being returned to him.  Previously, it had been seized by the city after Wayne lost his fortune and company during “Batman Eternal” and turned into a new wing of Arkham Asylum.  With that bit of knowledge in hand, it probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that some of the Asylum’s inmates decided to stick around because they have some unfinished business with Mr. Wayne.


It’s a solid enough story where most of the tension is generated through the question of what these inmates want with Bruce.  After all, it’s not like they knew that he was Batman before he lost his memory, right?  The actual answer is kinda interesting even though it feels like Tynion is reaching to justify things as one of the villains gives his big speech at the end.  Still, the story shows that even when he’s not Batman, Bruce Wayne is still someone who is not to be taken lightly regardless of the situation.


Then we come to “Gotham Is,” the main reason for this volume’s existence.  I won’t say that this issue alone is worth the cover price (no single issue is worth $23) but it’s still pretty damn good.  After some brief stock-taking with Alfred in the Bat-cave, Batman heads out into Gotham on patrol only for the city to be plunged into a blackout.  What kind of threat is the city facing now?  The search for an answer takes Batman on a whirlwind tour of familiar points from Snyder and Capullo’s run.  From a potential breakout in Arkham, to the Court of Owls, to one guy whose gang Batman took down in issue #2 and who now writes the “Gotham Is” column, to a cameo by the Joker, a lot of ground is covered in swift and engaging fashion.


You could accuse the creators of smug navel-gazing with what they’re doing here, but the fact remains that their run on “Batman” has been a stunning creative and commercial success.  Basically:  They’ve earned the right to take a victory lap with this issue.  There’s also a good sense of fun and uplift throughout this issue as we’re shown that things are not always as bad as they seem.  Even in a city like Gotham.  Even when Snyder and Capullo are clearly setting up future “Batman” stories that they might be leaving for other creators to follow up on their own.  This is a story that fully acknowledges the darkness of Batman’s world and also finds ways to tweak it as well.  It’s a perfect capstone to this particular run.


Jokes about me not envying who has to follow this are going to have to wait a moment because the issue that follows, “The List,” also comes from Tynion with art from Riley Rossmo.  This issue likely exists because all of the series that survived from the launch of the “New 52” all wrapped up with their 52nd issue.  Anyway, this issue treads through some “Batman Begins” territory as it flashes back to the time after Bruce’s parents were killed and how he tried to move on from that as a child, through making a list, and as a young man, through training.  These flashbacks are interspersed between the story set in the present which has Batman matching wits with a thief named Cryptis who can phase through any object and has stolen something of great personal importance to Bruce Wayne.


Cryptis is a good gimmicky villain for this kind of one-off story and there’s some fun to be had from seeing how Batman takes him down.  That said, perceptive readers will likely be able to guess what was stolen before the big reveal comes.  The reason for that, in case it wasn’t obvious from the start of this issue, is because this is a very sentimental story.  One where the “D’awwwwww” it inspires in me comes more from a cynical place than a heartfelt one.  Though the story itself is put together well enough, and Rossmo’s loose, raggedy artwork is appealing in its own way, this issue never really shakes off the fact that it’s basically just a glorified fill-in whose real purpose was to make it so that this run of “Batman” had 52 whole issues to it.


Then we come to “Batman:  Rebirth,” co-written by Snyder and incoming writer Tom King with art from Mikel Janin.  I get that the idea behind such a collaboration is to have the issue come off as a passing of the torch between two writers and offer those skeptical of the new writer measuring up (like me) a chance to see what he brings to the table.  Unfortunately, this issue is pretty underwhelming as a done-in-one story featuring Batman trying to foil a plan by the Calendar Man to poison Gotham while also formally integrating Duke Thomas into the supporting Bat-cast.  Duke looks like a solid enough addition, though he’s more interesting in the way that Batman is training him to be a superhero on his own terms than the next Robin than as a character himself.  As for the Calendar Man business, it’s rushed through too fast to really care about the threat he poses while the attempts to make Batman seem tough in the process come off as ridiculous more than anything else.  The issue does offer some great dynamic and detailed art from Janin.  What it doesn’t provide is a compelling reason to keep reading this series.


If you’ve been following the Snyder/Capullo run from the start, but were having doubts about picking up this volume, I’d say you should go for it.  In addition to collecting their final issue, it has one good story from Fawkes, and a couple decent ones from Tynion.  As for the “Rebirth” issue meant to herald King’s upcoming run, reading it may convince you to call it quits right here.  After so many great volumes of “Batman” from Snyder and Capullo, it’s hard to blame anyone if they decided to call it quits here.