Monthly Archives: April 2017

Marvel Previews Picks: July 2017

So… Marvel has had kind of a terrible month in terms of PR, haven’t they?  From the contents of David Gabriel’s summit with retailers, to the Anti-Semitic, Anti-Christian messages hidden in “X-Men Gold” #1, to the ongoing controversies surrounding “Secret Empire,” the comics side of the company is currently going through one of those phases where it can’t seem to do anything right.  I say “phases” because it’s been in worse situations before (Anyone remember the bankruptcy?) and survived them as well.  This time around, the challenge isn’t just to survive but grow its readership following whatever it has planned for the aftermath of “Secret Empire.”  With most of its key titles selling at historic lows, they’ve got a lot to do in that regard.  For the good of the industry too because it needs a strong Marvel — in order to survive until Image is strong enough to take its place.

Secret Empire #7 (of 9):  Speaking of Marvel’s latest event, this issue asks us to remember when “Civil War II” offered a prediction of Miles Morales killing Captain America at the Lincoln Memorial.  It didn’t happen in that event, BUT COULD IT HAPPEN HERE!?!?  Unless Marvel wants another media firestorm with the headline “Biracial Spider-Man Kills Nazi Captain America” then you shouldn’t bet on it.


Astonishing X-Men #1:  Wait, I thought that “Weapon X” was meant to be the “X-Force” book for this latest “X-Men” relaunch?  Though this series is titled “Astonishing,” it’s basically the latest iteration of the more proactive/violent X-team, as evidenced by the presence of Psylocke, Bishop, Fantomex, Archangel, Mystique (yeah, that’s going to end well), and Old Man Logan.  Rogue and Gambit are also onboard, because why not.  Charles Soule is writing the title with a rotating team of artists starting with Jim Cheung.  The fact that this book features a rotating team has drawn some fire because it downplays the role of the artist on the book, something that also fits with Gabriel’s assertion that most artists don’t “move the needle” on books these days.  Having a rotating team of artists is fine if you’re going for a series of one-off stories, but if you’re doing an ongoing story with them then it’s just going to look chaotic.  That might be appropriate given that this first arc is rumored to involve the Shadow King.  After that, I’m not so sure it’ll hold up.


Spider-Men II #1 (of 5):  At the end of the first “Spider-Men” miniseries, Peter Parker returned to the Marvel Universe and Googled Miles Morales’ name and went, “Oh my God” at the result.  Now, any logical interpretation of that scene would assume that Peter saw the 18 million results that such a search would involve and was dreading the task of sorting through them all to find Miles’ counterpart in our universe.  What Bendis was likely going for in that scene was to inspire shock/surprise/dread in the reader at what Miles was like in the mainline Marvel Universe.  My faith in Bendis’ long-term plotting hasn’t been that great as of late so I’m of the opinion that last scene was done more as a sequel hook for the sake of inspiring a sequel than because he had an idea about who this other Miles was.  Regardless, we’re about to find out who he is courtesy of  Bendis and original “Spider-Men” artist Sara Pichelli.  Though his writing for most superhero titles has been very uneven as of late, Bendis still has a great handle on Miles’ adventures (the “Civil War II” tie-in issues were great) so this could turn out to be better than I’m expecting.


X-Men Gold vol. 1, X-Men Blue vol. 1, Weapon X vol. 1, Extraordinary X-Men vol. 4, Uncanny X-Men:  Superior vol. 4, and All-New X-Men:  Inevitable vol. 4:  If you’re like me and want to follow the core “X-Men” titles then best prepare yourself for the nut-punch to your wallet Marvel will be delivering in July.  Yeah, I’m probably being generous by including “Weapon X” as a core title, but half-a-dozen trade paperbacks in a month?  If Marvel had any sense they would’ve put out the concluding volumes of the previous run in May leaving July free to spotlight the new titles.  Oh, and the “Prime” one-shot which kicks off this new direction is being reprinted twice between the “Extraordinary” and “All-New” titles to pad out their page counts.  The worst part?  I’ll probably end up buying all of these after I’ve just complained about this approach.  Well, not for less than 40% off cover price at least.


Star Wars:  Darth Maul:  When you’re doing a series about a villainous character, the easiest way to make them into a sympathetic protagonist is to put them up against someone worse than they are.  That’s the approach the first “Darth Maul” miniseries took when it had the character going up against the Black Sun criminal organization way back in the day.  This time around, writer Cullen Bunn appears to be going with mystery as Maul is going after a kidnapped Jedi padawan for reasons unknown.  I’ll admit I’m curious about that, even if it turns out to be a swerve to allow the character to do something truly villainous at the end of the story.


The Unstoppable Wasp vol. 1:  Unstoppable:  Collects “All-New, All-Different Avengers” #14, and issues #1-4 of the ongoing series “specially priced” at $13.  For a first volume collecting five issues, that’s not “specially priced.”  Check out the first volume of nearly every Image title and you’ll see that $10 is the standard price point for this kind of thing.

DC Previews Picks: July 2017

The “Dark Days” prelude continues with “The Casting” in this month’s solicitations, though the main event will kick off next month with “Dark Nights:  Metal” courtesy of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  That expectations for this are sky-high after the success of their “Batman” run, but they managed to thrive on going bigger with each arc there so I’m interested to see how they’ll adapt to masterminding a universe-spanning event.  Alongside this event will be the launches of new series from the likes of Snyder, Dan Abnett, James Tynion IV, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, and Kenneth Rocafort.  These will be featuring all-new characters with the intent of building new fans for the DC Universe.  It’s also reported to be masterminded by DC co-publisher Dan Didio (who’s also co-writing one of these new titles with Justin Jordan) after Geoff Johns ran the “Rebirth” show.  Knowing this, I’m going to have to take these new titles on a case-by-case basis since Johns has shown over the years that he’s the better writer.

Super Sons #6:  In which Damian Wayne wants to make Jonathan Kent a new member of the Teen Titans.  This is all well and good.  Of course, the solicitation text tells us that sinister forces are at work and Damian has an ulterior motive for wanting to put Jon on the team.   Said motive probably has something to do with the fact that Robin is kind of a dick when it comes to Superboy.  That’s the impression I got from the two-part arc where writer Peter Tomasi had them meet for the first time in the pages of “Superman.”  I get that their relationship is going to be a prickly one (just like the one their parents have), but Tomasi didn’t quite sell the idea that these kids would work past their differences in that arc.  So I’m all ready to assume that Damien wants Jon on the team just to make him look bad.  It’d be nice if I was wrong, though.


Doom Patrol #7:  Team founder Dr. Niles Caulder is back to re-shape the new Doom Patrol to be just like the old one.  I’d wish him the best of luck, but he’s a crafty bastard so I don’t think he’ll need it.  How crafty?  Well, there was that one time when he was trapped in a supermarket with a beard-hunting and heavily-armed Punisher wannabe.  As dumb as this guy was, taking on an old disabled man should’ve been a cakewalk for anyone.  Except Dr. Caulder managed to take him out with a combination of sunflower oil, shaving cream, sunflower seeds, and aluminum foil.  Naturally, this was something that happened during Grant Morrison’s run (issue #45).


Batman vol. 3:  I Am Bane:  The man who broke Batman’s back comes to Gotham for the settling of scores.  I’ll have a better idea of why Bane’s so angry this time after I get around to reading vol. 2, but I’m not expecting a repeat of “Knightfall” here.  Even though Batman is described as battered and exhausted in the solicitation text, I think he’ll pull through here.  Best of luck to Tom King in finding a unique angle on this particular rivalry.


Superman vol. 3:  Multiplicity:  Grant Morrison has created a lot of fantastic concepts for the DC Universe yet a lot of creators are (perhaps rightly) scared of actually working with them lest their attempts come off as pale imitations.  Well, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are stepping up to work with the inter-dimensional guardians established in “The Multiversity” with this arc.  They’ve got a relatively simple setup, Supermen from across the multiverse are going missing, but it’s still something that sounds like it would slot in nicely with the setup Morrison left everyone with.  Also in this volume:  Superman meets Swamp Thing.  I’ll look forward to seeing what bits of their shared history are addressed in their latest meeting.


Wonder Woman vol. 3:  The Truth:  Greg Rucka’s run on “Wonder Woman” has been unique in the sense that while the series has been shipping two issues each month, each issue advances a different plotline.  While this approach is easy to understand once you know what’s going on and allows for each storyline to have a consistent art team, the way DC is reprinting his run is somewhat baffling.  After all, wouldn’t it make sense for the first volume to be the “Year One” story since it chronologically takes place first?  Then you have this volume which will finish out the uber-story set up in “The Lies” and collect the writer’s final issue.  Where does that leave the next volume which is likely to come off as an afterthought as a result of this.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to have placed these volumes in a sensible reading order.


Justice League:  The Darkseid War Omnibus:  If you’re interested in picking up Geoff Johns’ climactic run on “Justice League” then you could spring for this $75 512-page omnibus when it comes out in October (it’s advance-solicited here).  Or, you could pick up the two softcover volumes collecting the main story along with the one that collects the specials for $17 each.  I thought that an omnibus collection was supposed to save you money compared to picking up the single volumes.  Unless DC is planning on letting the softcover volumes go out of print in the next few months.  If that’s the case, then you’d better grab them now or face paying a premium for the issues collected in this omnibus.


Sixpack and Dogwelder:  Hard-Travelin’ Heroz:  That we got one “Section 8” miniseries focusing on the surviving members of the world’s worst superhero team from “Hitman” a couple years back was a miracle in and of itself.  Getting a follow-up to that miniseries after it sold fairly abysmally makes you wonder what kind of leverage Garth Ennis has over the higher-ups at DC.  Anyhow, while Sixpack was the focus of the first series this one looks to be all about Dogwelder and how he comes to be aware of his hidden legacy throughout the DC Universe.  The character responsible for Dogwelder’s enlightenment:  None other than John Constantine, whose current status as member of the DCU has not gone unnoticed by Ennis.  Expect lots of laughs at the expense of the magus’ current status quo, though I’m sure any subtle commentary on the character’s plight as it relates to the current status of the Vertigo imprint that might be found here is purely accidental.


Wildstorm:  A Celebration of 25 Years:  It was a fun party while it lasted.  Now some of the most notable creators involved with the imprint are coming back for some short stories and pin-ups featuring its characters and teams.  So you’ve got Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch doing “The Authority,” Brandon Choi and Jim Lee giving us “Wild C.A.T.S.,” and J. Scott Campbell returning to “Gen 13.”  Sadly, new stories of “Wildcats” by Joe Casey and Sean Phillips, and “Sleeper” by Ed Brubaker and Phillips don’t appear to be on the menu.  That being said, there is one thing not mentioned here that would make this a TRUE celebration of Wildstorm:  LATENESS!  Though this volume is scheduled for August it wouldn’t surprise me if it slipped into later this year or even 2018.  I mean, even if these new stories are just eight-page shorts, does anyone really think Campbell has even started his yet or be done in time for the shipping deadline?


American Way:  Those Above and Those Below #1 (of 6):  It turns out that the power of winning an Academy Award doesn’t just extend to bringing the original “American Way” miniseries back into print.  Apparently writer John Ridley has managed to leverage it to get an all-new miniseries ten years after the first one saw print.  Given that Ridley’s involvement is the draw here, I’d love to know if he approached DC about doing a new miniseries or if they came to him.  Regardless, now I really have to check out the first miniseries to see if it really warranted a sequel in the first place.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: July 2017

We’re going outside Dark Horse’s solicitations for the above-board talk this month.  That’s because IDW will be publishing (co-publishing?) a crossover between the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Usagi Yojimbo.”  If that team-up sounds like such a natural fit that you’re wondering why they haven’t done this before, then you’re either not old enough or have just plain forgotten about the time(s) that they did before.  Usagi actually did show up on an episode of the old “Ninja Turtles” animated series from the 90’s and got an action figure out of it.  As for the Turtles, they guest-starred in an arc of “Usagi” back when the two series were published by Mirage.  Said arc can be found in “Usagi Yojimbo vol. 8:  Shades of Death” or in the first “Usagi Yojimbo Saga” omnibus from Dark Horse.


As for this latest crossover, it’ll be a forty-page one-shot from “Usagi” creator Stan Sakai.  Though the setup of the title character on a quest to save Japan is fairly standard issue, the fact that Jei will be standing in his way is quite notable.  This is because whenever the two cross paths it usually results in some very significant developments in the comics, or an Eisner award.  While I’m sure having the Turtles cross over into Usagi’s dimension will be a big help for our hero, it’s mentioned that this will be the current IDW incarnation of the characters.  So while Usagi remembers the last time he met up with the Turtles, they have no idea who he is.


The one-shot will cost $8 which induces a genuine case of sticker-shock for me but is actually in line with how IDW prices extra-sized issues.  There will also be a hardcover edition of this event which will include extra pinups and character studies for $15.  That’s the version I’m planning to pick up, because why overpay for a little when you can overpay for a lot and get it in hardcover with extras!

Aliens:  Defiance vol. 2:  Vol. 1 turned out to be more entertaining than what I was expecting.  While writer Brian Wood can usually be counted on to turn in quality work on licensed properties, framing the fight against the xenomorphs as a literal metaphor for how its protagonists, Colonial Marines PFC Hendricks and android Davis, fight to overcome their respective disabilities was genuinely clever.  This solicitation doesn’t offer much info about what to expect from the stories in this volume, but if you’re like me and appreciated the first one then picking up vol. 2 should be an easy choice.


The Black Beetle:  Kara Bocek:  Francesco Francavilla’s pulp-inspired hero returns for another adventure.  The first collected edition of the Beetle’s adventures was more noteworthy in my opinion for Francavilla’s stunning art.  It was imaginative and stylish with clever layouts that did their best to draw you in even as the half-baked story and formulaic dialogue pushed you out.  This time around the Beetle is on the trail of an object of immense power in the middle east which could bring Hitler’s dream of a Thousand-Year Reich to fruition.  Francavilla and Dark Horse are also taking a page from the hardcover edition of the “Usagi/TMNT” crossover I mentioned as this will be a 56-page hardcover for $15.  While it may sound heretical for me to place a higher value on the premium edition of a crossover than a purely creator-owned work, I’m still not sure whether or not I want to pay this much for some quality art if I think I’m going to be let down by the writing.


B.P.R.D.:  The Devil You Know #1:  Welcome to the post-”Hell on Earth” era for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.  I’ll have my thoughts on the final volume in the previous series eventually, but in case it wasn’t obvious from the existence of this new series it wasn’t as definitive an end for the Mignolaverse as I was expecting.  Now things are in a rebuilding phase and various factions — both demonic and not — are vying for power.  What’s left of the B.P.R.D. is going to try and hold order even as Liz Sherman embarks on the most dangerous rescue mission of her life.  While I’m always onboard for more adventures of the B.P.R.D., I have two concerns here.  One is that the main cover for the series appears to posit little demon girl Varvara as the new big bad and she’s someone who I think the creators find more interesting than she actually is.  Two is that Scott Allie is now the new co-writer for this series.  He co-wrote the “Abe Sapien” ongoing with Mignola which turned out to be consistently mediocre for much of its run.  Will he be able to step up his game here or will the collected edition of this series be the last new “B.P.R.D.” adventure I buy?


Dark Horse Comics/DC Comics:  Mask:  In case it wasn’t clear that every crossover between DC Comics and Dark Horse is going to be collected, this should make it clear to everyone.  Even though “The Mask’s” sell-by date has long since passed the characters and talent involved suggest that some of the stories here may actually be a decent read.  John Arcudi, Alan Grant, and Doug Mahnke are some of the creators involved with showing us what happens when the title character/object crosses paths with the Joker, Lobo, and… Grifter?  I’ll admit that my expectations are low for the story involving Wildstorm’s prodigal masked gunman, unless it turns out to be an Arcudi/Mahnke joint in which case all bets will be off.


Empowered:  Deluxe Edition vol. 3:  If for some reason you haven’t picked up the three most recent volumes of Adam Warren’s excellent global manga superheroine series, now you can get them all in one hardcover edition.  This edition is also said to include lots of unpublished artwork and commentary from Warren.  If you are interested in picking this up, then you’d better do it when it comes out as the one printing Dark Horse is doing for this edition is going to be it.


Moebius Library:  The Art of Edena HC:  The first volume of the Moebius Library, “The World of Edena,” was a Christmas gift and I was grateful for that.  That’s because I’d probably have been upset if I had bought it myself.  While Moebius’ artistic talents aren’t in dispute, his status as a writer/storyteller leaves something to be desired.  On that note, this second Library volume is said to be heavier on the art side of his skillset.  Four “Edena”-related short stories are collected here along with lots of artwork pertaining to the series as well.  If you’re a fan of the man, then you’re going to love this.  As for me, I think I’ll just leave it off my wish list.

Wave, Listen to Me! vols. 1&2

“Blade of the Immortal” certainly had plenty of irreverent moments strewn throughout its thirty-one volumes.  In reading mangaka Hiroaki Samura’s other works it becomes clear that’s his default mindset and he was doing his best to suppress it while working on his magnum opus.  While such irreverence can get a little wearying at times and occasionally sabotage some of the drama, the humor it brings is usually worth it.  That’s the case here with the first two (digital-release-only) volumes of “Wave” as we’re introduced to Minare Koda and her complicated life situation.  She’s currently working part-time at a curry restaurant whose boss is unforgiving of her eccentricities and is reeling from the fact that her last boyfriend disappeared after she loaned him 500,000 yen (around $5,000).  This leads her to drunkenly vent her broken heart to a complete stranger at a bar, one who turns out to be a producer at a local radio station.  Kanetsugu, the producer, was apparently so impressed by her rambling that he recorded it and plays it on his station which happens to be the one constantly piped into the restaurant where Minare works.  Furious, she heads over to the station to give him a piece of her mind and winds up on the dubious but potentially rewarding road to radio stardom.


How well you enjoy “Wave” will likely come down to your thoughts on Minare herself.  She’s very much a hot mess of a person, prone to coming home drunk in other people’s apartments, and even Kanetsugu (kinda accurately) remarks at one point that she’d probably be better liked if she kept her mouth shut.  But Minare is also incredibly passionate about whatever she does and very quick to think on her feet.  It’s because of these things that I was able to believe that Minare could make it as a radio personality, while also leading to some nerve-wracking tension about how she would respond once her boyfriend shows up again.  The story can also get pretty goofy at some points, witness the sound effects people known as Piggsy and Chimpsy for obvious reasons, and while Samura’s art is mostly sharp there are more than a few panels to let you know that he was up against a deadline as he was drawing it.  This all adds up to “Wave” having a rambling charm in my opinion and being a title worth checking out for those appreciative of the mangaka’s quirks.

Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1 — Rise of the Batmen

James Tynion IV has been working on assorted Bat-titles over the past few years and either co-writing or doing various fill-in issues during Scott Snyder’s run on “Batman.”  Now he’s being given his shot at the brass ring as the new writer for “Detective Comics” and has come up with a novel approach for the title:  To make it a team book.  Batman finds out that he and his comrades are being surveilled by an unknown faction courtesy of some advanced drones in the city.  With his entire family under threat, Batman enlists the help of Kate “Batwoman” Kane to help train the likes of Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and Clayface (!?) to prepare against this unknown threat.


To the writer’s credit, this threat is revealed in fairly short order over the course of the seven issues collected here.  There’s also a novel idea behind it as the thought of Batmen being trained to military specifications does sound like it’d give the Gotham-based vigilantes a genuine fight.  The problem is that in order to make this work, Tynion has to break one of Batwoman’s key relationships in the process.  It does produce some genuine drama but it also takes away one of the aspects that made her character unique amongst the other members of the Bat-family.


The story itself is solidly constructed with some decent twists and a nice escalation of tension right through the end.  Of course, stories about Batman facing an unknown threat that has also been developed to specifically counter him are a dime-a-dozen at this point.  I do think the team dynamic does help this particular take on that idea stand out a bit, and Tynion does have a good handle on the characters he’s writing.  Putting Clayface on the team is easily the most inspired part about this book as a nice balance is found between the villain’s psychotic tendencies, desire to reform, and newfound showbiz aspirations.  Still, “Rise of the Batman” is very much like the art from Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez:  Well-constructed and detailed enough to satisfy, but too familiar to really get excited about.

All-New, All-Different Avengers vol. 3: Civil War II

What do you do when your title has a three-issue tie-in with the latest big comic event and is heading for a relaunch shortly thereafter?  If you’re Mark Waid then your answer comes in three parts:  Tell a story setting up a future story, tell a story setting up a new series (with its co-writer), and tell a flashback story that touches upon the same themes of the event.

In the first case we have Vision employing the aid of professional “Civil War II” plot device Ulysses to find out when the villain known as Kang the Conqueror was born so he can be dealt with.  Then we have Waid teaming up with “Unstoppable Wasp” co-writer Jeremy Whitley to give us a multi-generational Wasp story as Janet tries to help stepdaughter Nadia work through the difficulties of seeing superheroes fight each other.  Last up is Thor talking with Heimdall about using his predictive abilities to help resolve the conflict and the gatekeeper god responding with a tale about how he once did so to assist the Avengers against Doctor Doom only for things not to turn out the way they expected.


Of the three, the Thor story is the best even as it traffics in some familiar time-travel cliches.  It’s still set up fairly well and offers a nice explanation of Heimdall’s abilities with Thor making up her own mind about how they should be used in her context.  Adam Kubert also gets to show off by rendering the flashback in vertical descending splash page fashion, giving the story a distinct look while also demonstrating his range in terms of characters and settings throughout the three tie-in issues here.


Vision’s story comes in second as Waid manages some genuine, “Where is he going with this?” tension even as I remain convinced he can’t be tampering with Kang as much as he implies here.  As for the Wasps, while I liked the mother/stepdaughter dynamic between Janet and Nadia I can’t say that doing a story where a character nearly blows herself up is the best way to set up her ongoing title.


Rounding out this collection is an annual featuring fanfiction of the Marvel Universe as seen through Ms. Marvel’s perusal of the latest offerings from Freaking Awesome.  The offerings here are pretty slight with all of them operating off of one good joke each.  Faith Erin Hicks gives us the self-explanatory “Squirrel Girl vs. Ms. Marvel” which should’ve leaned more into videogames than it does while Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt unleash talking animal versions of Marvel characters and animal puns in “Up Close and Fursonal” and call it a day.  “The Adventures of She-Hulk” has some wonderfully creative art as She-Hulk teams up with a pencil, but no real story to hold your interest.  Meanwhile, Mark Waid & Chip Zdarsky, and Scott Kurtz have some modest fun with male entitlement in “The Once and Future Marvel” and “An Evening With Ms. Marvel:  A True Story.”


These are bookended by sequences with Ms. Marvel, written by her creator G. Willow Wilson with art from Mahmud Asrar, reacting to one story which isn’t featured here.  That would probably have been the best part of this issue if it weren’t for the fact that the reveal of the person who wrote it falls flat because he never seemed to me like someone who would have an interest in this stuff.  This annual had a good idea behind it, but the creators ultimately played it too safe here.  Next time either give us some really crazy stories, or just some crazily-bad-written ones instead.

The Killer vol. 5: Fight or Flight

Here’s another series where if I had known this was going to be the last volume of it, I’d have saved doing the podcast on it until now.  Anyhow, writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon’s long-running series about a professional killer reaches an ambiguous end despite the global ambitions portended at the end of the previous volume.  While the success of the oil company the Killer founded with his friends, cartel scion Mariano and political fixer Haywood, has certainly led to a better life for them including a career in politics for Mariano.  He quickly convinces the Killer that his third-world nation needs their own kind of James Bond to do their dirty work and Matz has some cynical fun with this setup.  Not for long, though, as it turns out that Mariano’s ambitions are running over some of America’s interests while he’s also developed a bad habit of getting high on his own supply.  While the Killer has managed to stay one step ahead of the law until now, what happens when he and his family are faced with a threat that has unlimited resources and tenacity at its disposal?


The supreme achievement of this series is that it has managed to evoke a great deal of sympathy for someone I shouldn’t care much about at all.  Even though he’s a remorseless killer through and through, the title character has still managed to show a remarkable amount of depth as he accumulated friends, family, and success in fields that didn’t involve murder.  That remains true here as he sticks to his principles even as those around him do not and winds up paying the price for it.  Even then, the Killer’s fall feels more like a slump as his losses are pitched in a low-key manner and lack the fireworks you usually see in crime stories.


While this approach works as Matz and Jacamon tighten the screws, and leads to some good scenes like the Killer’s parting from his wife, the story ultimately peters out in the end.  There’s no real closure to be had, unless you were a fan of Matz’s cyincal anti-capitalist ranting throughout the latter half of the series.  That stuff is entertaining up to a point with me, and certainly not the basis for a satisfying ending.  Still, I have to admire the creators’ guts to end the series without serving up any definitive judgment on the Killer himself.  It’s true to the spirit of “The Killer,” even if this finale left me appreciating how much more deftly Matz and Jacamon set up and demolished expectations back in the first two volumes.

Queen Emeraldas vol. 1

Kodansha Comics should be applauded for bringing an old-school (read:  originally published in the 70’s) manga to our shores.  Ditto for the fact that it’s coming from mangaka Leiji Matsumoto, who is probably better known for the anime spun off of his works out here than the manga they’re based on.  The art is also generally pretty appealing with its varied sci-fi landscapes and quirky character designs.  That’s where my praise for this title ends as the actual storytelling being done here is pretty terrible.  Most of the stories here concern an orphan boy named Hiroshi Umino and his efforts to travel the sea of stars.  He does this by building his own ships, which only seem to last him long enough to get to the next planet, where he scrapes by doing odd jobs until he can build his next ship.  It’s during one of these stints that he meets the legendary pirate Emeraldas who happens to take an interest in the boy and goes about helping him through the galaxy in her own stoic way.


If you’re wondering why most of the stories in this volume are about Hiroshi rather than its title character then congratulations!  You’ve recognized the biggest problem with “Queen Emeraldas.”  Even though Emeraldas has presence, a cool scar, and is less hesitant to gun down fools who get in her way than a pre-”Special Edition” Han Solo, this isn’t really her story.  I might have been able to get past that if Hiroshi was a compelling protagonist in his own right, but that is so not the case here.  He’s kind of a whiner who has almost everything in the story handed to him by Emeraldas or guys who identify with his spirit.  There’s also plenty of talk about what it means to be a man journeying through space, so if you’re allergic to that kind of stuff then consider yourself warned.  As for the stories themselves, they’re straightforward affairs that offer no real surprises.


I should note that this volume is a hardcover edition with glossy paper stock collecting over 400 pages of manga for $25.  I’ll admit to that being a pretty decent value for your money.  However, the experience of reading it was such that after ordering this from Amazon at a nearly 60% discount I still felt ripped off afterwards.

Johnny Red: The Hurricane

I don’t think that Garth Ennis has written a war comic that I haven’t enjoyed reading on some level.  However, the more enjoyable ones tend to be where he tells us an actual story as opposed to explaining a specific aspect of combat or history.  “The Hurricane” easily falls into the former category as it’s another story about “Johnny Red,” a famous character in the pantheon of British war comics.  While his full name is Jonathan Redburn, “Jonny Red” works particularly well for him as a nickname because he’s a British pilot who has wound up fighting alongside the Russians during WWII.  He’s helped turn a ragtag fighter group into the fiercest bunch of pilots on the Stalingrad front, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by the higher-ups in Moscow.  So when two senior officials of the N.K.V.D. show up and announce that they’re going to be taking over to lead a special operation to be conducted by Russian personnel only, that sets off a lot of unrest in the ranks.  While it seems that this operation is going to be a simple milk run, Johnny soon finds out that it’s actually taking his comrades three hundred miles behind enemy lines.


The reason they’ve been sent so far behind enemy lines is a good one and actually quite believable given Russia’s fortunes at this stage of the war.  It also leads to a cameo from a prominent historical figure that should by all rights break your immersion in the story, but Ennis manages to make it work.  The overall story is an entertaining wartime adventure tale that uses just enough historical detail to make the fiction more enjoyable.  Granted, I could’ve done without the present-day sequences involving a tech billionaire restoring Johnny’s Hurricane fighter and getting his story in the process and the character’s longtime nemesis is worked into the story in a way that’s more awkward than anything else.  “The Hurricane” also boasts excellent art from Keith Burns as he shows us why he’s one of the best there is at depicting wartime aircraft in action.  I don’t know if Ennis plans to do more “Johnny Red” stories, though this one is good enough to make me want to check out the collections of the character’s original adventures.