Monthly Archives: March 2017

Marvel Previews Picks: June 2017

The word around town is that Marvel’s latest revamp is not a revamp.  Confused?  Well, the idea is that the company wants to get back-to-basics with a lot of their characters much in the same way that DC did to much success with “Rebirth.”  Not only can you expect to see more classic iterations of characters — working alongside their “legacy” counterparts, which Marvel is turning into its own thing with the “Generations” one-offs — but a lot of titles will be resuming their original numbering as well.  After reaching an anniversary issue so that they can capitalize on that particular sales boost, of course.


Before that, the company has to get through “Secret Empire.”  Its latest event lumbers through these solicitations with two more issues in the core miniseries solicited alongside a host of tie-in issues and miniseries.  With the zero issue due to hit stands soon, previews have been making their way to news sites and what they’ve revealed about the story has been… disturbing.  Apparently WWII didn’t end the way we thought it did thanks to the use of a Cosmic Cube.  However, the actual truth is really goddamn depressing and throws a giant wrench into the concept of the Marvel Universe being “the world outside your window.”  I’d be more upset about this if it weren’t for the fact that this also reads like a giant swerve designed to get the reader to think the worst about the story before doubling back to reveal that actual inspiring, reassuring truth by the end.  Which, now that I think about it, does kind of line up perfectly with the company’s “not a revamp” revamp.

Edge of Venomverse #1 (of 5):  Remember “Spider-Verse” from a few years back?  That was the “Spider-Man” event that had Peter Parker teaming up with Every Spider-Man Ever to fight some really uninteresting bad guys.  Well, now Venom is getting the same treatment with this new lead-in minseries that posits the question of what would happen if X-23 was Venom-ized.  Maybe not quite “Spider-Gwen” but this mini has four more issues to see if lightning can strike twice in that regard.


Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #1:  For all of you who couldn’t stand the “Parker as CEO” status quo over in “Amazing,” here’s what’s billed as a back-to-basics approach for the character.  Granted, not much is said about said approach than the fact that he’ll be going back to his old neighborhood to fight foes old and new.  It does, however, have a solid creative team in the form of writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Adam Kubert.  Maybe not an essential read, even if the idea of seeing Kubert draw Spider-Man and his rogues gallery (on an irregular basis after the first arc, of course) does have its own appeal.


Defenders #1:  Sooooo everyone knows that there’s going to be a “Defenders” series on Neflix later this year that brings together the principal characters from all of the other Marvel shows on the streaming service, right?  Well, here’s the new comic they’re launching to tie into that series.  It’s written by Bendis, and while his output has been… uneven as of late, he has extensive experience writing three of the four principal characters here.  Those being Dardevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage.  He’s also written Iron Fist as well, but usually only in a supporting capacity.  Maybe he’ll show us what he can do with the character here.  “Defenders” will be illustrated by David Marquez, who has collaborated a lot with the writer over the years and shown that he can deliver quality work every time even when the script isn’t quite up to par.


The Vision:  Director’s Cut #1 (of 6):  How acclaimed was Tom King and Gabriel Walta’s series about the synthezoid Avenger?  So acclaimed that it’s getting a “Director’s Cut” that reprints two issues at a time with special extras.  While some of these “extras” are decidedly standard issue (script excerpts, sketches) one of them happens to be King’s original series pitch.  These things are always interesting to read because of the insight the provide into the creation of a series and to see what winds up being changed in the final product.  That alone won’t get me to re-buy this series, which I thought was somewhat overrated, but if you’re interested in checking this series out and haven’t got to it yet… then you should skip these reprints and wait for the inevitable “Director’s Cut Hardcover” collecting everything that will no doubt be solicited down the line.


Darth Vader #’s 1&2:  After Gillen and Larroca’s excellent take on the character which detailed his personal journey between Episodes IV and V, you’d think that any writer would hesitate at the thought of following that series up.  Most writers aren’t Charles Soule, who has made it clear through his work that he loves a challenge.  This is the guy who gave us “The Death of Wolverine” and its fallout, and tried to get people to care about “The Inhumans.”  He’s at least taking a different approach with this series, which follows Vader in the wake of Episode III and will show us how he built his reputation as the Emperor’s most feared enforcer.  It’s not a bad approach and I’m curious to see how artist Giuseppe Camuncoli — best known for his work on “Amazing Spider-Man” for the past few years, but is also someone who worked on “Hellblazer” for a good long while — handles the character here too.


Inhumans vs. X-Men HC:  Exactly what it says on the cover.  Normally I wouldn’t have a problem picking up the latest “X-Men” event in hardcover.  The problem here is twofold in the fact that the seven issues here, said to total a little over two hundred pages, will set a dedicated reader back $50.  Which is too damn much when I’m not as invested in the story as something like “Secret Wars” which was better value too.  The other problem is that the “Death of X” prelude to the event was kind of terrible.  While I’m very invested in the ongoing narrative of Marvel’s Merry Mutants, it’s not to the point that I’ll be rushing to pick this up before it hits paperback or if I can find it at a deep discount (digitally or otherwise).


U.S.Avengers vol. 1:  American Intelligence Mechanics:  Despite it’s title, this is basically a direct follow-up to Al Ewing’s “New Avengers” series.  Whose latest volume still stands as the best Marvel comic I’ve read so far this year.  Now working for the U.S.A. (Or is he?) Roberto DaCosta looks to defend our country from corporate takeover by the Golden Skull with… well-fitting tuxedos?  Compared to the wild ride of Ewing’s “New Avengers” that actually doesn’t sound completely ridiculous.  Neither does the promise of “Dedd-Puul, The Mercenary That Walks Like a Man.”  All of this just makes me want to read this volume as soon as it comes out!


The Punisher vol. 2:  End of the Line:  It’s a sadly apt title, given that it contains the last issue of comics Steve Dillon illustrated before he passed away unexpectedly last year.  That’s reason enough for me to pick it up even though I was underwhelmed by the story in the previous volume.  If it does wind up getting better here, then that’ll be another reason to appreciate the man.


Amazing Spider-Man:  Worldwide vol. 6:  Stuart Immonen joins the series as the new artist while Dan Slott finally lets us in on what Norman Osborn has been up to since the end of “Superior Spider-Man.”  As it turns out, he’s worked his way into a position of power in the nation of Symkaria.  This means that any effort by Spidey to take him down will be perceived as an act of war.  In an interesting turn, this arc also has a formal title:  “The Osborn Identity.”  Which does seem kind of plain if we’re talking about Norman’s identity issues between himself and the Green Goblin given that… Wait a second…  “OsBORN Identity?”  GOD DAMN IT DAN SLOTT!!!  I finally got the joke and it is TERRIBLE!  I hope you’re proud of yourself because that’s some first-degree PUNishment you’ve inflicted on me here!

The Girl From the Other Side: Siul, A Run vol. 1

Here’s a new title from Seven Seas that I feel owes its existence on these shores due to the success of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride.”  That’s mainly due to the number of superficial similarities the two titles share.  Like that other great title, “The Girl From the Other Side” is about the relationship between a human girl and an otherworldly being, the danger in interactions between the human and spirit realms, a focus on European culture and myth, and an art style that’s somewhat out of the mainstream.  However, this “Girl” is no mere clone.  Mangaka Nagabe is telling a more unsettling tale that goes further into the realms of fairy tale.

We’re quickly introduced to Shiva, a little girl who lives in the forest alone with Teacher.  This may not seem like an unusual arrangement, save for the fact that Teacher is a black-skinned/furred being with horns and a beak-like mouth known as an Outsider.  They are said to be a cursed race cast out by the God of Light who created the Inside where normal humans live.  Normal humans live in fear of the Outsiders because their touch is said to turn people into hideous creatures.


Even if that’s true it doesn’t stop Shiva from living a relatively normal life in Teacher’s care.  We see them take walks through the forest, gather food at an abandoned village, have tea parties, and  even pray together before the girl goes to bed.  If Teacher looked like a regular human, it probably wouldn’t be hard to mistake the two for a father and daughter.  Except that wouldn’t be true because we find out early on that he knows the real truth about why Shiva wound up in his care and is willing to lie to the girl in order to protect her happiness.


The relationship between these two is a little bit unusual by these standards.  Usually you expect the otherworldly being in this story to be a kind of grumpy curmudgeon, somewhat clueless about human behavior, or a mix of both.  Teacher is actually pretty understanding and accommodating of Shiva’s behavior as he accepts her gift of a flower wreath, attends her tea parties, and even tries baking her an apple pie, revealing his lack of cooking skills in the process.  Seeing the two interact together is genuinely adorable and creates a great deal of empathy for them when bad things start to happen.


Part of that is due to the fact that Teacher is willing to indulge Shiva’s belief that her auntie is going to come for her.  He acknowledges that it’d probably be better for her to learn the truth, but just can’t bring himself to tell her.  It’s a very human decision on his part and the consequences of that become apparent when Shiva goes off one night in the rain to look for her auntie and runs into some soldiers who have been told to look out for the little girl in the woods.  Because she’s likely an Outsider and should be killed on sight.


Regular humans don’t have much of a presence beyond that in this story.  Nagabe establishes them as well-meaning but tragically and violently paranoid as you’d expect in a fantasy middle-ages setting.  Oh, and a little bit deluded as well since they carry the belief that they’re in the right because they live on the Inside.  If Nagabe does see fit to develop their side as the story goes on, I’d expect that belief to be shaken up quite a bit.


Still, further development of the story all around would be nice.  This first volume gets by mainly on the strength of the relationship between Shiva and Teacher and the eerie atmosphere Nagabe creates with the art.  It’s a storybook look that skews more European than Japanese and is perfectly suited to creating scenes of idyllic homeliness and sinister unease.  Yet the story and world here still feel kind of slight.  At this point it feels like there’s nothing more to it than what Shiva and Teacher have experienced.  The mysteries raised here also haven’t quite grabbed me yet, though grabbing does factor into the effective cliffhanger at the end of the volume.


I don’t think that “The Girl From the Other Side” is an exact fit for fans of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” but I have no problems recommending it to people who liked that series or are looking for something different in the manga they read.  Slight though the narrative may be at this point, it still registers as the good kind of different because of the style Nagabe brings to this story and the sympathetic relationship between Shiva and Teacher.  I want to see where their tale goes, even if it winds up leading into sad or even more unsettling territory.

DC Previews Picks: June 2017

There are plenty of new collections in this month’s batch of solicitations from DC.  But why concern yourself with them now when we have word about collections that will arrive even later this year!  Some of these are particularly long-in-the-coming, such as “The Atlantis Chronicles” from Peter David and Esteban Maroto, which details the pre-Aquaman history of Atlantis.  Jim Balent had long run on “Catwoman” during the 90’s before forming his own self-publishing operation to give us the soft-core likes of “Tarot:  Witch of the Black Rose.”  That run on “Catwoman” will have its first fifteen issues collected in “Book One” so expect more to follow afterwards.  All of the “Fourth World” comics Jack Kirby did will be getting an omnibus, and the entirety of the maligned “Detroit Era ‘Justice League’” is collected now that most of its members can be seen on DC’s CW shows.  Finally, in the “better late than never” category Rick Veitch’s run on “Aquaman” finally gets its second collection 15 years after vol. 1 came out.  No word on whether that first volume, which is currently out of print, will receive a new edition to mark the occasion.


Believe it or not, I have more to say about “Aquaman” and long-delayed trades involving the character after the break.

Dark Days:  The Forge #1:  It’s been rumored for a while that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s return to the DCU will be a Batman-centric even called “Metal.”  Before that happens, Snyder is putting together another Bat-event with frequent collaborator James Tynion IV and the kick-off is with this prelude issue illustrated by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita Jr.  The premise is that the other heroes in the DCU are suspecting Batman of hiding a secret that could threaten the fabric of the multiverse.  While this is kind of vague, it’s worth noting that we are coming off of a storyline that had Batman investigate the origin of the “Watchmen” button with the Flash.  Also, “Batman keeping secrets from other superheroes” is kind of a trope at this point.  Fortunately Snyder has shown that he’s good at finding spins on these things, so maybe this will turn out all right in the end.


Aquaman #25:  Kicks off a new storyline, “Underworld,” where a new king has been crowned in Atlantis and he’s made life more miserable for EVERYONE!  Fortunately for the downtrodden masses, there’s word of a rebel in the slums with the power to change the world.  I think it should be obvious who this is, but I’m not talking about this series for its story.  The reason is that it has a new artist starting with this issue:  Stjepan Sejic of “Sunstone” fame.  After toiling for years on various Top Cow titles and then breaking out with his bondage-themed romance comic, this represents his first major work at DC.  I’m not sure if I’ll actually start buying “Aquaman,” but I hope that his work here helps send him on to even bigger and better things.


Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1:  The DC/Looney Tunes crossover issues are solicited here and the “Lobo/Road Runner” one still sounds like the best of the batch.  However, I’ve learned a little more about this “Batman/Elmer Fudd” one-off from writer Tom King and artist Lee Weeks.  Apparently Fudd is being written as a millionaire who develops an obsession with the Caped Crusader and takes to stalking him through Gotham.  This does sound kind of silly, until you think about all of the equally-if-even-more-so one-off villains that Batman has crossed paths with over the decades.  That said, I can see this working best if King tries to channel a pre-”Dark Knight” Batman from the 80’s, which would be about the right mix of silly and serious for this particular story.


Mother Panic vol. 1:  A Work in Progress:  From Gerard Way’s “Young Animal” imprint comes this story about a Gotham vigilante by writer Jody Houser and artist Tommy Lee Edwards.  A brand new Gotham vigilante who isn’t associated with all of those other Gotham vigilantes, it should be said.  Violet Page is a celebutante with a bad attitude who targets other people on her social level for their transgressions.  A one-percenter vigilante who goes around beating up other one-percenters?  I can get behind that.  I mean, “Renato Jones” has set a pretty low bar for this kind of thing…


Shade the Changing Girl vol. 1:  Earth Girl Made Easy:  Also from “Young Animal.”  I’m thinking about picking this up just to see if it’ll help distract me from the fact that the rest of Peter Milligan’s run on “Shade the Changing Man” has yet to be collected in print.


DC Universe Rebirth Omnibus Expanded Edition:  Did you already buy the original omnibus collecting all of the “Rebirth” issues published by DC?  Well guess what — it’s not complete anymore!  Fortunately DC has your back with this new edition that collects the recent spate of “Justice League”-related issues and the one for “Batwoman” as well.  Of course, it’ll cost you $100 to get these new “Rebirth” issues in this format, which is just one more reason you should NEVER invest in these kinds of collections in the first place.


Aquaman:  Kingdom Lost:  While it didn’t take fifteen years to complete like Rick Veitch’s run, John Arcudi’s work on the same series of “Aquaman” receives its final collection just a bit sooner.  Kind of a weird bit of synchronicity, that.  Not quite as strange as the thought of someone like Arcudi and his years writing “B.P.R.D.” and other Mignolaverse titles, and who has gone on record as saying that he’s never been that interested in superheroes, having a run of “Aquaman” on his resume.


Gotham Academy:  Second Semester vol. 1:  After the previous volume put the series back on track, we now get to see if that trend continues here.  Also, we get to see if having three writers — Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan, who co-wrote the first series, are now joined by its artist Karl Kerschl — is better than two.


The Absolute Authority vol. 1:  The Ellis/Hitch run on this groundbreaking superhero title is collected in more than its entirety.  By that I mean the “Planetary/The Authority” one-shot is collected here, while a brand-new “Authority” story from Ellis and Hitch is promised as well.  No clue whether or not it’s an actual “new” story or something that’s been in an editor’s desk at DC for years.  My theory is that it’s a short that Ellis wrote around the time he finished his run on the title and that Hitch started drawing shortly thereafter… only to finally finish it for inclusion in this volume.  Because he’s slow — GET IT?  Yeah, that was pretty bad…

The Autumnlands vol. 2: Woodland Creatures

This volume took a while to arrive, but it was ultimately worth the wait.  I thought that the first volume of “The Autumnlands” from writer Kurt Busiek and artist Benjamin Dewey was the best new Image title to debut in 2015 thanks to its impressive worldbuilding, clever twist on the “legendary hero” story, and amazing art.  Dewey’s art is still amazing and Busiek clearly has a lot more to say about the world of “The Autumnlands” as dog apprentice wizard Dusty and human soldier Learoyd try to make their way back to civilization after surviving the explosion that sent them into the river at the end of the first volume.  Their travels take them into the lands of some none-too-friendly goats, and some far more accommodating sheep who ask for the assistance of these two “wizards.”  This is because there have been strange lights in the night sky by the mountains while the young and the old have fallen ill due to an unknown sickness.  It isn’t long before Dusty and Learoyd find their way to the source of the problem, and the cause isn’t something they could’ve anticipated.


What we learn about the cause also tells us a lot more about the world of “The Autumnlands” in the process.  Not to give too much away, but if you remember the old adage about how sufficiently advanced technology can appear indistinguishable from magic then you’ll be halfway there.  That may seem out of place in a story that presents itself as a high-fantasy tale involving talking anthropomorphic animals, except it was already set up with what we’ve learned about Learoyd and where he came from.  Toss in what we learn about the deities of the Autumnlands here and it becomes clear that Busiek has clearly thought all of this through.  In light of this, my complaints are relatively minor.  It feels like we’re lightly beaten with exposition in the latter half of the story, particularly after one of the gods shows up, and I was hoping to learn more about the other survivors from the previous volume after it was revealed that there’s a different kind of drama brewing with them back home.  At least that bit gives me something to look forward to in the next volume, along with the continuing adventures of Dusty and Learoyd in this fascinating land.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: June 2017

You could say there’s been some good news on the manga publishing front at Dark Horse.  After a three year hiatus, vol. 4 of Kohta Hirano’s Drifters is solicited here (for release in August) following a successful anime series last Fall.  While they’re not solicited here, it’s been mentioned elsewhere on the web that the final three volumes of Yasuhiro Nightow’s Blood Blockade Battlefront will eventually be released here.  Possibly even in time for the second season of the anime.


Though this may seem like the start of a trend, you shouldn’t get your hopes up.  The only reason we’re seeing these series brought back from hiatus is because they spawned popular anime series.  It’s probably worth reiterating the fact that even though Hirano and Nightow were responsible for two of the most popular manga from Dark Horse, “Hellsing” and “Trigun” respectively, that success was largely down to the popularity of their anime incarnations.  Having a popular anime is the best sales tool a manga can have in the States, but it’s disappointing to see that Dark Horse couldn’t leverage the success of Hirano and Nightow’s previous series for their current ones.  So even though “Blood Blockade Battlefront” already has a manga sequel in Japan don’t expect to see it out here unless it gets its own anime.


That being said, the first three volumes of “Drifters” were great.  Everyone who liked the anime should go out and buy them, and then pick up vol. 4 when it comes out in August so we don’t have to worry about it going on hiatus again.

Baltimore:  The Red Kingdom #5 (of 5):  Now that’s an ominous cover!  Particularly so since unless writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have some sort of epilogue in mind this is going to be the concluding chapter of the “Baltimore” saga.  Expect lots of death here, with the title character possibly earning the eternal rest he’s been looking for.  You know, if he’s lucky.


Bankshot #1 (of 5):  New from Alex De Campi, writer of “Grindhouse” and “No Mercy,” and artist Chriscross.  The solicitation text tells us that depending on how you look at it, Marcus King is either a terrorist or a modern-day Robin Hood.  One person has made up their mind on the matter and is planning on using King’s darkest secrets against him.  While this doesn’t sound like a recipe for violent escapism, we’re also promised that King will punch an army of dudes and blow up a lot of stuff in his fight against this adversary.  With De Campi at the helm, I can get behind that.


Briggs Land:  Lone Wolves #1 (of 6):  Brian Wood and Mack Chater’s series about an anti-government secessionist movement transitions to a “series of miniseries” format.  I’m still waiting on the collection of the first miniseries to be released, so I can’t get too excited about this.  Still, the setup for this mini sounds promising.  One of the Briggs clan, Isaac, finds two backpackers who have wandered onto his family’s land.  It’s an innocent mistake on the backpackers’ part, but we’re told that Isaac is an Afghanistan vet and currently struggling to reintegrate into society.  Expect this honest misunderstanding to be resolved quickly and in a friendly matter and DEFINITELY NOT spiral out of control to the point where bullets start flying.


Calla Cthulu:  From the husband-and-wife writing team of Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, and artist Erin Humiston comes this story that mashes together the protagonist of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.  Calla Tafali is your average high school student who also happens to have the blood of the Great Old Ones running in her veins.  This leads her to battle assassins and supernatural monsters on a regular basis, and fend off advances from her uncle, The King in Yellow, to join the “family business.”  It’s pitched as an all-ages adventure, so consider it as a kind of gateway drug for kids to get into Lovecraft.  To be honest, I’m really only mentioning this here because of its punny title which is kind of genius as these things go.


The Complete Elfquest vol. 4:  Collecting the rest of the “Hidden Years” series and… Hot damn!  We’re getting all of “Shards” in this volume too.  A little context:  Several years back DC started reprinting “Elfquest” in manga-sized editions.  We got fifteen of these volumes before the publisher called it quits.  I’m sure declining sales were the main reason, but the story being told in these later volumes was growing increasingly strange and fractured without a clear direction.  A few years later a friend of mine loaned me some of the self-published collections that came after the DC volumes, which included the “Shards” saga that had the Wolfriders’ longtime enemy Winnowill allying herself with the human warlord Gromhul Djun.  It was just the kind of focus the series needed to get its mojo back in my opinion.  And now it’s being collected August!


The Dark Horse Book of Horror:  In case it wasn’t obvious, it bears mentioning that Dark Horse loves anthologies of short stories.  While their namesake title “Dark Horse Presents” has been the longest running and most successful representation of this love, they’ve also published a number of stand-alone short story anthology volumes over the years.  Four of which, “The Dark Horse Book of Monsters, The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, and The Dark Horse Book of the Dead” are collected in this $20 368-page volume.  That’s a great deal by itself, even before you realize that this contains work from Sean Phillips, P. Craig Russell, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni, Jill Thompson — who are just the creators they listed on the front cover!


Matt Wagner’s Grendel Tales Omnibus vol. 1:  How influential and popular was Wagner’s “Grendel?”  Enough so that during the 90’s, it was able to support a number of spin-off miniseries from creators other than Wagner that explored the universe he created from different perspectives.  The ones I’ve read were actually pretty good and this first of two omnibus volumes is also advertised as collecting previously uncollected material.  Also, a quick check of my library shows that I only own one of the miniseries collected here so re-buying it with this omnibus isn’t really a deal-breaker.


The Strange Case of the Disappearing Man #1 (of 6):  I’m honestly struggling to make sense of the premise of this miniseries which comes off as a low-key high concept.  We’re told that it centers around Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Adye who is looking for a return to normalcy in his life.  This is after his run-ins with the likes of Edward Hyde and Jack the Ripper.  Except now Adye has found himself embroiled in a new case, that of the disappearing man.  Now, if the premise of this series is going to be “police inspector who investigates bizarre crimes tied to famous literature” that’s fine, but you should come out and say it.  Particularly if his latest case is going to involve the Invisible Man.  Also, it just feels weird for his previous cases involving Mr. Hyde and the Ripper to be tossed off so casually here in the solicitation text.  Maybe this can still work, but the unknown creative team, of writer Cole Haddon and artist Sebastian Cabrol, has me feeling that I don’t have to rush in order to find out if that’s the case.

Inuyashiki vol. 6

In case you weren’t convinced that Hiro was the bad guy in this story after the past couple of volumes, mangaka Hiroya Oku goes to make the case again here.  After a Japanese S.W.A.T. team busts into Shion’s home in the middle of the night, wounding the girl and her grandmother in the process of getting to Hiro, the cybernetically-reconstructed teenager murders the attackers without a second thought.  Then he goes to the nearest police precinct and spends a good chunk of the volume murdering everyone inside before turning his attention to the forces sent to apprehend him for doing that.  If that wasn’t enough, he then declares war on Japan at the end of the volume and states in no uncertain terms that his goal is to kill everyone in the country.


Where’s the title character in all of this?  Well, he gets more than a couple pages in this volume.  Mainly because he winds up as a supporting character in his daughter’s subplot.  Mari hasn’t been much of a presence in this series until now, serving only to fulfill the role of “teenage daughter who thinks her dad is soooooo uncool.”  We do learn that she wants to become a manga artist, and it is interesting to see her father’s reaction to that.  Especially since this comes after she sees her dad “in action” and realizes that he’s not an ordinary human anymore.


I’d much rather follow where that subplot goes than see more of Hiro’s selfish and nihilistic killing spree.  There’s a slow-motion sense of horror to his murderous stroll through the police station, but Oku never fully taps into the waking nightmare that these policemen must be experiencing.  In fact, most of the killing here almost feels glorified as Hiro uses his “finger-gun” to waste everyone he makes eye contact with and not experience any fear of retribution along the way.  Until he meets up with Inuyashiki, that is.  I hope that’s the case.  My patience with this series is wearing thing and I’d really like to see Oku get to the main event before it runs out.

Oh, and apparently there’s a giant meteor heading towards Earth in this series too.  Apparently the main conflict in this series just wasn’t interesting enough for Oku…

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta vol. 4: Under Devil’s Wing

The previous volume left off in a way that suggested big things were going to happen here.  Kyle Barnes had been captured by Sidney and his crew of possessed humans and was completely at their mercy regarding their plans for the Great Merge.  Those of you (myself included) expecting this to be a climax point after the events of the previous three volumes are going to feel a little disappointed here because what follows is… lots of talking.  You see, now that Sidney has the upper hand, he decides to lay out his best case as to why Kyle should join his side.  Our protagonist is not having any of that, and fortunately for him Reverend Anderson is hot on his trail.  There’s some fighting, a fire, escape, a chance for Kyle to perform another exorcism and add someone to their team, and a moment where Sidney has the tables turned on him.  Of course, with someone as devious and cunning as Sidney, can having him at your mercy even be a good thing?


There’s no denying that “Outcast” does the slow burn well.  Robert Kirkman builds character and tension well through his dialogue while also parsing out information necessary to the larger plot at the same time.  If nothing else, we do get a better handle on Kyle’s abilities, the nature of these demons, and what the Great Merge is in this volume.  Paul Azaceta also layers on menacing style throughout the volume, creating an uneasy atmosphere where the nightmares are all walking around with human faces.  The problem is that “Outcast” feels like it’s all about the slow burn after four volumes.  Twenty-four issues in and I’m still waiting for the creators to kick things into high gear and take it to the next level.  Now, that might happen in the next volume as we leave off on a shocking moment of violence that leaves one of the main cast quite dead if appearances are to be believed.  There’s no way said death won’t create some shockwaves, the least of which being what it means for the killer.  Who, I might add, has had one of the more interesting arcs in this series so far.  While I’m not about to recommend this to people who aren’t part of Kirkman’s fanbase, it’s still possible that I could wind up doing so in the future.

The Black Monday Murders vol. 1

With his track record, any new Image series from Jonathan Hickman is a reason to get excited about.  I was particularly looking forward to seeing how the full volume of “The Black Monday Murders” would read after I checked out the first issue several months back.  Now that the final volume is here, it still represents an entertaining read.  Though, that’s more because of the entertaining surface it presents than the world the writer is trying to create.

When “The Black Monday Murders” was revealed to the world last year, the pitch was that the world of high finance was secretly run by schools of magicians that have endured for centuries.  It’s the kind of high concept that Hickman likes to serve up in his creator-owned work and it proves pretty easy to get behind here.  After all, it allows the reader to buy into their worst impressions of the industry when it’s revealed that there’s some pretty dark powers behind these schools.  The kind that demand stockbrokers be thrown out of buildings to their deaths to appease them during the Great Crash of 1929.


It’s a singular death that kicks off the main story in this volume.  Daniel Rothschild, managing partner of the Caina-Cankrin Investment Bank, is found murdered in his penthouse apartment with his body and surroundings arranged in a macabre fashion.  Called in to investigate this crime is Detective Theodore Dumas, who has a reputation for being able to successfully deal with this kind of strangeness.  After all, he managed to avoid having to spend the rest of his life in prison when it turned out that a man he shot in cold blood was also a prolific serial killer.  Though Theo knows that what he’s getting into is going to be out of the ordinary, he quickly finds himself at the edge of the abyss when confronting Caina-Kankrin and the power it represents.  Power that its prodigal daughter, Daniel’s sister Grigoria, looks to inherit and wield to her own ends when she’s called back to the country to take up her brother’s place.


What “The Black Monday Murders” has going for it, in this first volume at least, is style.  Hickman’s script is full of clever lines and memorable scenes where characters try to assert their dominance through verbal wordplay.  There are also plenty of supplemental pages that are ostensibly there to give you some idea of how the financial schools work and provide additional information on certain characters, such as the diary entries that detail the very interesting upbringing of one of Caina-Kankrin’s board members.  Tomm Coker’s art amplifies this style, giving everything a slick professional look.  Yet there’s also a grit to his work that helps underline the nasty underpinnings of the story, whether it’s taking place on Wall Street, a police interrogation room, or an unnamed demonic realm.


The problem is that for all this style there’s not a whole lot of depth to the world that Hickman is building here yet.  For all of the talk about magic, rituals, prices being paid, and demonic familiars the magical aspect of the story feels woefully underdeveloped at this point.  We don’t get much of an idea of how magic has helped shape the history of finance, or of how it works in this world beyond the idea that sacrifice is necessary.  Magic, along with the demonic forces at work here, feels vague and undefined as seen in this volume.  Much in the same way that it was in Brubaker and Phillips’ “Fatale” all the way to the end.  I’m hoping that Hickman was laying off on the worldbuilding with regards to magic in order to make for a more accessible read out of the gate.  Now that the introductions are over, I want to see more of the development I know he’s capable of.


He at least manages to establish an intriguing cast of characters right out of the gate.  Theo makes an impression as a cool and intelligent presence.  Even though he’s clearly meant to serve as a point-of-view character for the audience’s entry into this strange world, it’s made clear that for all of his uneasiness he’s a smart man who can work out the right approach for situations like this.  Grigoria also proves to be a captivating presence as we find out a good deal about her history — equal parts tragic and morbid — in this volume.  It also looks like she’s going to make for an intriguing antagonistic force for the powers-that-be at Caina-Kankrin as she pursues her own agenda.  This is against such people like board member Viktor Eresko, a man whose dials on “smug” and “arrogant” have been turned all the way to eleven and who is not afraid to let anyone know it.  Toss in supporting and fringe characters like board member/teacher Alexei, flippant alcoholic Marco, and mysterious diarist Wynn and there’s plenty of potential for new stars to emerge in the narrative as it goes on.


Which is good because “The Black Monday Murders” does have some work to do from here.  Its interesting characters have plenty of style to them, but the world they exist in doesn’t feel fully-formed yet.  I want to see Hickman lay out the rules and history of magic in this world before I start feeling better about anticipating future volumes.  Still, even I can admit that it’s possible to coast for a while on the level of style presented here assuming it’s to your liking.

Dept. H vol.1: Pressure

I didn’t have the best impression of the first volume of Matt Kindt’s previous creator-owned series at Dark Horse, “Mind MGMT,” but I eventually grew to appreciate what it was offering in subsequent volumes.  The creator’s latest series at the publisher may have a punny title, but everything about it is played straight in this murder mystery set seven miles below the surface of the ocean.  It involves Mia, the daughter of the brilliant scientist who ran Dept. H and who was also found dead under mysterious circumstances recently.  She’s asked by the head of the government organization who runs Dept. H to investigate it as foul play was suspected in her father’s death.  Mia’s relationship to her late father could best be described as “strained,” a description which could also be applied to the mix of family members, and former friends and colleagues she encounters at the deep-sea research station.  Seeing as how one of them is likely the murderer here there’s probably not going to be any love lost between parties when the truth comes out.


“Mind MGMT’s” real appeal was with how Kindt relentlessly experimented with the comics form throughout the series.  There were hidden messages on the side of each page, innovative layouts were used to capture the emotion of a scene, along with interesting mixes of text and comics panels.  While this experimentation made for a consistently engaging reading experience, it also camouflaged the fact that the story Kindt was telling was far more straightforward than it appeared to be.  That’s the case from the start in “Dept. H” as things play out in a fairly predictable manner with a cast that feels underdeveloped so far, the research lab being sabotaged, and a host of creepy undersea creatures.


Reading this series also made me realize that Kindt needs to work on his dialogue skills.  This wasn’t a problem in “Mind MGMT” because the straightforward and occasionally on-the-nose dialogue of its characters complemented the strange tone he was going for in that series.  Here, in a more grounded series, the words coming out of the characters’ mouths feel functional and frequently bland.  I realize that I’m comparing “Dept. H” to Kindt’s previous series a lot here, which is probably a little unfair since it’s a very different kind of work.  Still, I kind of feel obligated to come back and check out vol. 2 when it’s released to see if history repeats and a more favorable impression is made.  Something which is against my better judgement at this point.