Monthly Archives: February 2017

Assassination Classroom vol. 14

The school restaurant fair showdown between Classes E & A turns out not to be the main story for this volume.  It’s dealt with pretty early on as the resourcefulness of Class E shows that they can at least go the distance against Class A even when the odds are so thoroughly stacked against them.  We also get some follow-up to a couple previous plot threads as Nagisa has a second encounter with the rich boy from the tropical island who thought the student was a girl, and mangaka Yusei Matsui makes another effort to have Nagisa’s mom come off as an actual person instead of a manic collection of impulses.  However, this conflict does segue seamlessly into the next arc as final exams begin.  While we’ve been down this test road before, the catch here is that Principal Asano is going to handle the test prep for Class A.  So the battle this time is going to be a real clash of ideologies between the principal and Koro-sensei.


Asano gets a lot of the focus for the latter half of this volume, and that turns out to be a very good thing.  He’s been used quite well as the Lex Luthor to Koro-sensei’s Superman in this series, as a villain who is to all outward appearances a well-functioning and successful member of society to the point that he can’t be dealt with by being punched into submission for his villainy.  So it comes down to seeing whether or not Asano’s teaching skills and his ability to fan the flames of hate in his charges will triumph over Koro-sensei’s more compassionate methods.


That I probably don’t have to tell you how that turns out is certainly a flaw, but Matsui at least provides a good explanation for why it happens in this situation, and it’s always a joy to see his action-filled gonzo interpretations of how the students conquer their tests.  This sets us up for a final showdown between Asano and Koro-sensei which also looks to reveal the principal’s history and show us how he developed his ruthless methods.  I have a feeling that his status as the “Luthor” of this series won’t be applicable after we’re done here, yet I’m fine with that.  As long as their development is handled well there’s no reason that characters in mega-popular series should be able to change as the story goes on.  Well, except for Luthor himself, you know.

Marvel Previews Picks: May 2017

There has been a not-insignificant talent exodus within Marvel over the past few years.  After the likes of Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and more have told the stories they wanted and achieved a certain amount of fame for doing so, they’ve departed for Image to pursue creator-owned work.  I believe this is as it should be.  Having creators work on corporate-owned characters in order to achieve a sizable fanbase so that they can tell their own stories is a very workable system.  We get stories from creators that will hopefully push the medium forward as they pursue subjects aside from superheroes, and Marvel gets to have lots of new spins on their characters from creators looking to make their name in the industry.


Still, there is something to be said for the appeal of having a familiar big-name creator returning to the company in order to tackle the one character they didn’t get to before they struck out on their own.  Rumor has it that Marvel is lining up some big-name talent for a return to the company in 2018.  The idea of having someone like Hickman take on “Iron Man” or Remender finally tackling the “X-Men” proper does sound kind of cool.  It does, however, make you wonder how they’re going to get through 2017 before they can finally reveal these surprise returns.

Secret Empire #’s 1-3 (of 9):  Well, here’s part of the answer.  Marvel’s big summer event is essentially the culmination of writer Nick Spencer’s “Hydra Cap” storyline.  With everything in place, Steve Rogers publicly declares his allegiance to Hydra and the organization makes its move to take over the world.  Many have criticized Spencer’s run on the “Captain America” titles as being too political, but I think he’s done a great job of tapping into the zeitgeist with the stories he’s told.  It’s also been said that the idea of Hydra, an organization born out of the ashes of Nazi Germany, secretly infiltrate the highest levels of American government is a bit on-the-nose for our current times, which makes this storyline impossible to appreciate as escapist entertainment.  All I can say is that if this story is done right, not only will we see why a Hydra-run government would make things worse for everyone, but we’ll also see the bad guys punched in the face repeatedly for their transgressions.  Along with some delicious schadenfreude as the Red Skull finally realizes that by turning Rogers into a secret Hydra agent, he has created the biggest obstacle yet to realizing his plans for world domination.


Doctor Strange #21:  A “Secret Empire” tie-in issue where New York is under attack by “dark forces” and the debut of new creative team writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Niko Henrichon.  I liked the Beast/Dr. Strange team-up issue Hopeless did over in “All-New X-Men,” and Henrichon has done some amazing work in the past on graphic novels like “Pride of Baghdad” and “Noah.”  The thing is that he doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who can reliably keep to a monthly schedule.  Then again, very few artists seem to be capable of that these days.  Assuming he doesn’t depart the title after the first arc, I’d expect to see a rotating cast of artists on this title from here on out.


All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #’s 1-2, Rocket #1, & I Am Groot #1:  A soft relaunch of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise of titles just in time for the new movie.  I can’t say that the idea of Gerry Duggan taking over the main title inspires that much confidence in me — I’m still trying to get over how badly he missed the mark in the first volume of “Deadpool:  World’s Greatest.”  On the other hand, Al Ewing and Christopher Hastings are taking on “Rocket” and “Groot,” respectively, which should make for a couple of good reads.  Possibly only a couple as we’ll have to see if either title sells well enough to go on past its initial arc.


Generation X #’s 1-2:  Marvel gives the “Young X-Men Team Book” concept another try by giving it the title of the one with a fairly long run from the 90’s.  Former Gen X’er Jubilee is running a team which consists of familiar faces like Quentin Quire, Bling, and Eye boy, and a few more who are either all-new or are just there to make me feel embarrassed for not recognizing them.  This comes from writer Christina Strain (who is not familiar to me) and artist Amilcar Pinna, who did “All-New Ultimates” with Michael Fiffe.  Pinna’s work on that title could best be described as awkward, so let’s see if he’s improved in the time since it ended.


Zombies Assemble #’s 1-2:  This is the English version of the “Avengers vs. Zombies” manga from mangaka Yusaku Komiyama, with writer Jim Zub noted as handling the English adaptation.  This isn’t the first time Marvel has published a manga based on their characters in the U.S., but I guess the concept behind this series convinced them to give this one a shot.  While Jim Zub is a fine writer, I’m honestly doubtful he’d have the latitude of someone like Carl Horn working on distaff “Evangelion” manga spinoffs to make the adaptation as fun as it needs to be.  As for Komiyama, a quick look over at his history on Anime News Network reveals that he’s a relative newcomer to the industry with this being his highest-profile work to date.  I don’t want to say that this looks like a case of the Japanese office grabbing whoever wasn’t busy to put this title out, but, well…


Star Wars:  The Screaming Citadel #1:  “Star Wars” crossed over with “Darth Vader” while Kiron Gillen was writing it, and now the main title is crossing over with “Doctor Aphra” also written by Gillen.  I’m all for it, even if only because “Vader Down” represents a fairly low bar to clear for quality “Star Wars” crossovers.  Gillen has described this as being a more horror-centric event and the solicitation text bears that out with the talk of the Queen of the Screaming Citadel and her parasites.


Star Wars:  The Marvel UK Omnibus:  Would you pay $100 for an omnibus of old-school “Star Wars” comics from Marvel’s UK publishing arm?  While the fact that it’s over 800 pages means that this omnibus is priced fairly reasonably, the real appeal of this comes from the creators involved here.  Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson, Dave Cockrum, Steve Parkhouse, and…  Alan Moore!?  Yes, that’s right, Moore wrote “Star Wars” comics back before he hit the big time in the 80’s.  So if you’re a completist for the writer then you’re going to want to pick this omnibus up when it comes out.


Star Wars:  Doctor Aphra vol. 1 — Aphra:  There was no denying that “Star Wars’” morally flexible answer to Indiana Jones had the makings of a star from her debut in Gillen’s “Darth Vader” series.  The only question was whether or not she was going to survive working with the Dark Lord of the Sith in order to capitalize on that appeal.  Fortunately for us, Gillen is a very clever writer and found a way for that to happen which didn’t feel like a complete cheat.  Now Aphra is back to scouring the Outer Rim for rare artifacts with BT, Triple-Zero, and Black Krssantan in tow.  With Gillen writing and Kev Walker providing the art, that sounds like a can’t-miss proposition.


Also, for everyone who has yet to experience it, Gillen’s “Darth Vader” run gets the omnibus treatment this month as well.  It’s $100 for over 700 pages, and while that’s a little less than the price for the “UK Omnibus,” it’s still more than you’d pay if you bought the series in its two hardcover editions.  So if they’re still in print, you’re better off buying those instead.


Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus:  Over 1100 pages for $100.  Mind you, this is recommended only if you’re in the mood for Ennis’ “funny” work with the title character.  Personally, I think his work here is some of the funniest he’s done in comics.  Mainly because of the fact that he’s not working with the freedom allowed by a “mature readers” label, Ennis has to be a lot more clever when it comes to venturing outside the realm of good taste.  Still, it’s Ennis, with most of the art here provided by the late, great Steve Dillon, so you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

Star Wars vol. 4: Last Flight of the Harbinger

Last time in “Star Wars” Jason Aaron introduced a promising idea — that of a jail run by the Rebellion — only to drown it under conventional, predictable storytelling and see it written out of the series by the end of the arc.  It would be hard for him to do worse after that and I’m happy to say that’s not the case here.  “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” introduces us to the Special Commando Advanced Recon (SCAR) stormtrooper squad and makes it quite clear from their introductory issue that these troopers are some of the best they have to offer.  So while SCAR squad is quickly establishing themselves as a credible threat by swiftly dismantling a rebel cell, our protagonists in the Rebellion are working on pulling off one of their craziest schemes yet.  Tureen VII, one of the worlds sympathetic to the Rebellion’s cause, is currently being blockaded by the Empire with all attempts to break through it having failed quite spectacularly.  If they’re going to break through it, then they’re going to need to use something big.  Something “Star Destroyer” big.


It’s hard not to like the idea of Luke, Han, Leia, and co. setting up a plan to steal a Star Destroyer and use it against the Empire.  Granted, the ease with which they pull it off does kind of make you wonder why they don’t try to steal every Star Destroyer, and I’m wondering just how many people they were able to get on hand after we were told that they wouldn’t have nealy enough to meet the minimum 2,000 crew members needed to pilot it.  If you can get past those gaps in logic, then this volume does offer an entertaining ride.  Particularly when the SCAR troopers show up to complicate things with their deadly set of skills.  Even if they were set up to be defeated by the good guys, we do learn an important thing about this squad by the end of the volume:  They never leave empty handed, and that’s going to cause some long-term problems for our heroes.


Art for the main arc is provided by Jorge Molina who has improved considerably since his very busy work on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “X-Men:  Legacy.”  Here, he adopts a style that’s closer to Stuart Immonen’s which does give the arc a lot of energy even if it serves to remind you that the latter is one of the best there is.  Mike Mayhew returns to provide art for the “From the Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” interlude and it’s another reminder that he can do incredible work when given enough time.  The story itself is fairly “meh” as these Kenobi flashbacks have been, though seeing the old Jedi take on Black Krssantan does perk things up a bit.  It also appears to offer a bit of closure for these flashbacks, so maybe we’ll see Aaron try something more interesting whenever he needs to slot a single-issue story into his run.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: May 2017

Karen Berger is back!  The big news coming out of the ComicsPro conference for Dark Horse is that the company will be publishing a new line of comics from the legendary editor.  For those of you who might not know who she is, Berger rose to fame at DC in the late 80’s where she edited numerous titles with offbeat and mature sensibilities.  These included “The Sandman,” “Doom Patrol,” “Shade the Changing Man,” and “Animal Man.”  Several years later, Berger established the Vertigo imprint under DC for titles that shared those sensibilities and didn’t fit neatly into the DC Universe.  The rest was history until she retired from the company in December 2012.  People have been speculating that Berger was going to start her own line of comics after that, and now we have it.


While Berger is currently editing “Surgeon X” over at Image, Dark Horse seems like a better fit for her.  The company may be more corporate than the creator-owned free-for-all that is Image, but I think that makes them better positioned to support a line that is editor-curated.  Plus, they’ve got a long history of respecting creator rights as well.  While we shouldn’t expect lightning to strike twice with Berger’s new line, I’m sure they’re going to be worth checking out.  Plus, I hear she’s really tight with that Neil Gaiman guy too!

Angel Catbird vol. 3:  The Catbird Roars:  Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas’ cat-astrophic graphic novel trilogy concludes.  Vol. 2 just came out and… I have yet to even order it.  I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point, if only to see if the Castle of Count Catula is as awesome as it sounds.


Berserk vol. 38:  As the solicitation text reminds us, this will be the first new volume of “Berserk” in four years.  Mind you, much like nearly every other Dark Horse manga where the gaps between new volumes can be measured in years, the wait here isn’t because of low sales.  That’s because all outward appearances indicate that mangaka Kentaro Miura is struggling to maintain interest in continuing his magnum opus.  In addition to lengthy hiatuses between new chapters, he even took time off to do the “Giganto Maxia” miniseries.  While I’d say that the series is more than halfway done, it still doesn’t look to be anywhere near finished.  If waiting four years between volumes is the new normal for “Berserk” now, I’d say people should content themselves with checking out the anime, or side projects like the “Berserk and the Band of the Hawk” game which came out this week, rather than invest their time and money in a series that will likely never see completion.


Oh, but what about this particular volume?  We’re told that Guts’ band arrive at the island of Skelig in the hopes that the magic of the elves can cure Casca’s condition, while Rickert finally comes face-to-face with Griffith for the first time since the rest of the Band of the Hawk was sacrificed.  It’s not that I don’t think seeing these developments play out will be disappointing or even unsatisfying.  Not knowing when we’ll see them followed up on is the real dealbreaker here.


Dept. H vol. 2:  After the Flood:  I recently picked up and read the first volume of Matt Kindt’s latest series, a near-future murder mystery set in a research lab on the bottom of the ocean floor.  The good news is that it didn’t end in a way that had me wanting to write it off in the way that the first volume of “Mind MGMT” did.  Unfortunately, the relentless experimentation with the comics form which drove that series is absent here.  While it’s probably expecting too much from Kindt to push the envelope with every new title he does, the fact is that without it his storytelling is revealed to be fairly pedestrian.  I was also left with the feeling that the story being told here would be fine for a twelve-issue series, but issue #14 is also solicited here.  I’ll pick up this volume to see where he’s going with this, though I’ll also keep my expectations low when I do.


Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #1 (of 5):  The first “Dragon Age” miniseries from Dark Horse came from a writer — Greg Rucka — I really liked.  He was also working well out of his area of expertise and the final product came off as fairly by-the-book as a result.  Now we’ve got the veteran writing team of Nunzio DeFillips and Christina Weir giving us the story of elven squire Vaea accompanying her knight into Kirkwall just in time for the appointment of Varric Tethras as its new viscount.  Vaea is also a talented thief, but when she attempts to change the terms of what she thought was a simple job things start to get ugly.  This sounds all well and good, but I’m honestly more intrigued with the concept of seeing Varric in a position of leadership.  Seeing a scoundrel like him in a position of authority sounds like an idea worthy of a miniseries itself.  Too bad it appears to be just a subplot here.


Ether vol. 1:  Death of the Last Golden Blaze:  Also from Matt Kindt, though he’s just writing the story of an interdimensional adventurer who only believes in science and yet is called upon to solve the crimes of a fantasy realm.  I know I just knocked his storytelling abilities with “Dept. H,” but he’s actually come up with a pretty clever premise here.  “Ether’s” art is also coming from the highly talented David Rubin, so there’s a chance it could help to gloss over some of the flaws that come up.  This is also debuting in paperback first for $15 so it’s easier to get onboard with as well.  What I guess I’m trying to say here is that I’m more interested in this new collaborative project from Kindt than his writer/artist gig.


Gary Gianni’s MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories:  Gianni hasn’t done a whole lot of sequential art, but whenever his name is mentioned this is usually the title that is cited to show what he’s done.  It’s about millionaire filmmaker Lawrence St. George and his associate Benedict and their various adventures involving squid pirates, zombie cowboys, abominable snowmen, mustachioed skulls, and flying demons.  While I’m familiar with Gianni’s meticulous art, I can’t say anything about his storytelling.  Which makes it good that Dark Horse included a couple of enthusiastic quotes from Mikes Mignola and Chabon to let us know what we’re getting here.  However, don’t expect all 168 pages to be filled with comics.  The solicitation text also lets us know that this volume includes stories from the likes of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith that Gianni has illustrated as well.


H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories:  From mangaka Gou Tanabe comes an adaptation of three stories from the legendary horror writer.  While literary adaptations tend to be very hit-or-miss in comics, I’ll be picking this up because I figure it sends a better message to Dark Horse regarding what kind of manga I want to see from them as opposed to picking up any of their “Vocaloid” titles.  Regrettably, I still have yet to read any of Lovecraft’s actual stories.  I’ve been meaning to fix that for years now, but maybe one of these days…


I Am a Hero Omnibus vol. 4:  Seeing a new volume of this title solicited here was the most pleasant surprise in this round of solicitations.  Not just because it’s actually being solicited, but because it’s scheduled to come three months after vol. 3.  Previously, new volumes of this title had been scheduled at six-month intervals.  I can only hope this means that “I Am a Hero” has been selling well enough for the company for them to put this latest omnibus out so soon.  As for the contents of the volume itself, we’re told that protagonist Hideo is now being forced to work with a group of survivors who have some odd(?) rules about survival in this post-apocalyptic world.  Mention is also made of the fact that Hideo’s highschool companion Hiromi is also “partially mutated” which, in the relatively grounded aesthetic of this series, reads to me the same as “being completely screwed.”  I hope no one got too attached to her in vol. 2.

The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady — Book One

Longtime readers have probably picked up on the fact that I’ve got a kind of weakness for manga that tackle foreign places and time periods.  So it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I picked up the first volume of mangaka Kazuhiro Fujita’s “The Black Museum.”  This is actually the second arc in the series, but it’s completely self-contained so far as the title place and its curator serve as a framing device for the stories that Fujita wants to tell.  In this case, it’s about a ghost known as The Man in Gray and his association with none other than Florence Nightingale.  Before she rose to fame as a nurse who pioneered many lifesaving medical standards and practices, Florence was tormented by her own eidolon.  You see, in the world of “The Black Museum” all humans have these supernatural parasites of the soul which are in constant conflict with each other.  Except in the case of Florence as her own eidolon is bent on attacking its host.  Unable to bear the pain of these attacks, she seeks out Gray in the hope that this ghost will be able to take her life and end her suffering.


Of course, that doesn’t happen and the narrative then goes on to chart Florence’s history with Gray at her side.  While the ghost, who has a love of the theater and all things theatric, has promised to take the woman’s life when she finally succumbs to despair circumstances just keep conspiring to prevent that from happening.  Though there’s plenty of fun repartee between the two, Gray’s fixation on this subject quickly becomes tiresome because it’s obvious it’ll never come to be.  So that leaves the story of Florence’s life — now with extra supernatural battles — to pick up the slack.  As someone who had only heard of the nurse’s reputation prior to reading this, Fujita’s interpretation is engaging enough.  I know not to take it as gospel, but there are plenty of handy footnotes on hand to keep things grounded in fact.


Fujita’s stylized art is also generally nice to look at.  He possesses a thin, wiry style that works best when illustrating Gray and the eidolon battles.  It’s less effective in portraying human drama as Fujita’s style is keyed up to a high energy level which sends most dramatic scenes straight into histrionics.  While I can appreciate the mangaka’s ambition here in telling a story that is decidedly out of the manga mainstream, the overall quality of this first book leads me to diagnose it with a case of “reach exceeding grasp.”

The Goddamned vol. 1: Before the Flood

Save for a short story in the pages of “Thor:  God of Thunder,” this is the first time Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera have worked together since completing their excellent Native American reservation-set crime series “Scalped.”  That fact alone was enough to get me to give this series a shot.  “The Goddamned” is best described as “Aaron and Guera’s ‘Bible Stories’” since this first volume gives us a rather different perspective on Noah and his quest courtesy of a certain unkillable biblical outcast.  This character isn’t named at first, but perceptive readers will likely be able to guess who he is before his identity is revealed.  Said protagonist is the hard-bitten loner type who has learned not to care about those around him as he looks for a way to finally die.  However, his nihilistic attitudes are soon put on hold as he encounters a woman whose son has been kidnapped by Noah and his crew, to work on the Ark and keep the animals fed, and he decides to help her out.  All because the love she has for her boy is a very rare commodity in this day and age.


Guera’s art is the star of the show here as he renders a pre-flood world that is gritty and rotten enough to make you understand why God would want it all washed away.  The savagery of the world’s inhabitants is also rendered in stomach-churning detail with very little mercy on display here as well.  It’s good that the visuals are this strong because there’s a lot about this story that most readers will find quite familiar, both in terms of story and what Aaron has delivered before.  While the arc that the protagonist undergoes isn’t new by any standard, it also falls prey to the writer’s “more is more” tendencies.  Things don’t get as bad as the baby-chucking excess seen in “Men of Wrath,” though, the nihilism and anti-God ramblings start to grow old after a while.  To the point where the final surprise of the story fails to register because — in case you didn’t get it — this world is screwed.


Aaron does serve up some clever lines, an imaginative offensive use of his protagonist’s immortality, and an interesting take on Noah himself.  He’s just as much of a brute as his fellow man, but he’s employing this brutality for a higher purpose.  All in all, this is probably best enjoyed by people who were completely onboard with what Aaron and Guera were doing in “Scalped” and want to see what they’re like when they’re let off the leash of Vertigo.  Anyone looking for a story about Noah which actually embraces hope while not shying away from depicting a world that needed to be washed away is recommended to check out the “Noah” graphic novel from Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon which served as the proof-of-concept for Aronofsky’s film.

Conan vol. 20: A Witch Shall Be Born

We’ve reached the end of Fred Van Lente’s tenure as writer of “Conan” and the best way to sum it up is by saying this:  It was certainly a thing that happened.  I want to say that his run would’ve been better served by having an arc to it, as was the case with the title character’s romance with the pirate queen Belit during Brian Wood’s tenure, but that’s not entirely true.  Previous writers Kurt Busiek, Tim Truman, and Roy Thomas had no long-range plans for their runs and they were a lot more entertaining.  That’s likely because their work gave the impression that these writers were fully invested in the character and his adventures.  Van Lente has seemed content to simply put Conan through his paces as it were, with the most interesting bits coming in the return of familiar characters like Thoth-Amon and Janissa the Widowmaker.  Left to his own devices and Robert E. Howard’s source material, the results are considerably less inspiring.


Such is the case with “A Witch Shall Be Born.”  Things kick off with Taramis, Queen of Khauran, being secretly deposed by her long-lost twin sister, Salome, who is also the witch of the title.  After she lets in the savage Shemites to enforce her rule, Conan suspects that something is up and starts cutting people down only to wind up crucified for his efforts.  The time spent with the character on his cross is the most interesting part of the volume, as guest artist Jose Luis ably depicts his savage will to survive amidst hallucinations.  From then on it’s the usual story of Conan getting his strength back, assembling an army, and leading it against the witch.  It all leads to a very busy finale where Salome employs her magic in ways that could’ve made the rest of the story more interesting.  Cullen Bunn is set to take over for Van Lente with Dark Horse’s next “Conan” series and it’d be nice if he can return the barbarian’s comic book adventures to their former glory.  If not, well, then I’d say anyone looking to enjoy “Conan’s” adventures with this publisher should just check out volumes zero through sixteen and leave the ones that follow on the shelf.

The Punisher vol. 1: On the Road

The late, great Steve Dillon.  That’s what the artist is now and this latest volume of “The Punisher” represents the bulk of his final work, with his last issue set to be collected in the next volume.  Dillon’s work on the character is iconic with his innate ability to perfectly frame a gunfight, creatively render the violence, and have the perpetual scowl he gives Frank Castle absolutely looks like it belongs on his face.  All of his skill is on fine form here as the Punisher finds himself up against a crime ring with a killer new drug in its hands.  It’s the kind of drug that will turn the weakest crook into a crazy-strong killer, and the distribution is being overseen by Frank’s old army commander Olaf, and an enforcer who goes by the name of Face for reasons which will be fairly obvious once you get to know him.  However, the D.E.A. is also on the case as two of its agents, Ortiz and Henderson, have been surveilling the operation and are just about to move in and start making arrests.  Assuming there’s anything left to arrest after the Punisher is done with them.


As good as Dillon’s art is here, the script by Becky Cloonan is only average.  Pitting the title character against violent drug dealers has been old hat since the days of his ongoing series from the 80’s.  The bad guys aren’t really that interesting either.  Face’s proclivities will be quite familiar to anyone who has read the second arc of “Preacher,” while the guy who uses his daughter as bait is a halfway decent setup for one whole sequence.  With regards to the D.E.A. agents, Ortiz is the more fleshed out of the two though it’s too early to tell if Cloonan is going to take Greg Rucka’s approach to “The Punisher” and make the series more about her than the man himself.  There is some interesting work done with Frank himself as his origin is formally and straightforwardly updated from the Vietnam War to Desert Storm and in a way that’s also relevant to the story at hand.  Overall, Cloonan doesn’t do a bad job with the writing it’s just that she turns in work that will come off as old hat to anyone who has been reading the character’s adventures for an extended period of time.  It’s worth buying for Dillon’s art, but he’s illustrated much better “Punisher” stories than this one.

Manifest Destiny vol. 4: Sasquatch

If you went into this volume expecting to see Lewis, Clark, and their associates take on the legendary “Bigfoot” then you’re not going to be disappointed.  In fact, they find themselves up against many sasquatches fairly early on, all thanks to the actions of the explorers who came before them.  That’s what sets this volume apart from the previous three as writer Chris Dingess delivers two parallel narratives about the exploration of the old Western United States.  Prior to Lewis & Clark, there was Helm & Flewelling and their far less prepared expedition.  When winter comes they find themselves resorting to desperate measures in order to survive, until Helm gets some assistance from an unexpected source.  What follows is a disturbing tale of survival as Helm commits savage acts of violence to survive and make sure his message regarding the future prosperity of America reaches the right people.


In the present day, we see Lewis & Clark putting Helm’s knowledge to better use for the good of the group.  While it’s shown to work out well for pretty much everyone, the question now becomes whether or not they’ll be able to use it to do the right thing in the end.  “Manifest Destiny” may appear to be a fun adventure series which adds a supernatural twist to the exploration of America’s old frontier, but it has also acknowledged the ruthless measures that were taken in order to tame it for everyone.  It’s easy to argue for this approach when the monsters are unreasoning creatures like those featured in the first two volumes.  But when “taming” comes down to stabbing the carnivorous bird people who helped you in the back, or taking out violent monsters who are attacking you as a result of what the people before you did, justification becomes that much harder.  It’s hard not to notice the Native American presence in this volume and realize where this approach is going down the line.  There’s more to this series than I had initially thought, and I’m very interested in seeing how Lewis & Clark deal with the increasing moral complications of their journey from here on out.