Category Archives: Comic Picks By The Glick

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol. 2 — The Trial of Maria Hill

Much of this volume reads like a masterclass in trolling people who can’t stand the idea of Steve Rogers as a secret agent of Hydra.  This time around it’s revealed that Steve is going to have to rely on the help of his best friend in the whole world in order for his plan to succeed.  Who is this friend?  None other than Helmut Zemo!  He also engineers an alien attack on Earth in order to gauge the capabilities of the Alpha Flight program, goes demon-hunting in Scotland to swing the votes in the titular trial, almost poisons comatose comrade Jack Flag, and is revealed to have nearly done the same for the man who made him a super soldier, Abraham Erskine.  Mind you, the present-day stuff is being done at the same time as Steve is trying to undermine the Red Skull’s current plan and seize Hydra for himself.  Not to be left out in the shenanigans arms race of this volume, Maria Hill tries to save her position as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. by offering up a planet-sized bribe at her tribunal.


I can see how these things would rub a lot of Cap fans the wrong way and that’s part of the fun.  Writer Nick Spencer appears to take a perverse kind of delight in putting forth the idea that longtime enemies Captain America and Baron Zemo (Jr.) are actually best friends, and that a pre-”Operation Rebirth” Steve attempted to assassinate Dr. Erskine under orders.  He knows he can get away with stuff like this because it’ll all be retconned away by the end of “Secret Empire.”  Marvel has even said as much, urging fans to be patient and they’ll get the Cap they know and love back at the end of the event.  This doesn’t surprise me since it was obvious that was going to be the endgame for this storyline.  Spencer is clearly having fun with it, both in the flashbacks and in the present day where Cap still manages to project an outwardly heroic exterior while advancing his sinister agenda.  Jesus Saiz provides some wonderfully textured artwork, with Javier Pina doing a capable fill-in job, and I found the whole thing to be pretty enjoyable.  Whether or not you’ll agree with me all depends on if you recognize the trolling going on here and are amused by it too.

Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 9

I think I preferred this series back when it was on the verge of becoming a trainwreck.  Even if “Ajin” was preparing to go off the rails at any moment, there was fun and excitement at the thought of seeing it happen.  This is compared to the series as it is now which is fairly generic when the bullets and body parts aren’t flying.  Take the sudden change of heart Sato’s right-hand-man, Tanaka, displays towards two female characters in this volume.  After taking down Izumi and revealing her to be a demi-human in the process, he goes back to kill the witnesses and smash their cellphones.  Later, he winds up saving the secretary who oversaw his torture while he was in the hands of the government.  Why would he do either of these things?  Because that’s what characters like him — subordinates to the main antagonist who are starting to have second thoughts about their line of work — do in these stories.  Some characters do die in this volume.  I’m not sure that anyone will be bothered to care since one of them didn’t have a name in the dramatis personae at the front of the volume and the only one that has had a decent amount of page time goes out in a predictably tragic and manly way.


Is there anything about this volume which rises above mere competence?  Well, the action scenes are as slick as always and some interesting tricks regarding how demi-humans can use their regenerative abilities and IBMs are shown off here.  Everything else is straight out of the genre playbook.  Which means that while I know I’m not supposed to have any sympathy for a psycho killer like Sato he still remains the most interesting character in the series because he’s committed to his cause and clearly enjoying himself in the process.  When he offers to cut off Kei’s head in order to get our protagonist to utilize his powers in more creative ways, I was actually kinda rooting for it to happen.  If nothing else it would’ve saved us from the painfully generic verbal throwdown Kei has with Ko about leaving that closes out this volume and arc.  Things are left fairly wide open with regards to where the narrative could go from here.  At this point, I feel somewhat confident in guessing that “anywhere interesting” won’t be one of those places.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth vol. 15 — Cometh the Hour

I was awaiting this volume with one big expectation.  After all, Mike Mignola provided an end to “Hellboy’s” saga last year, and delivered the final proper volume of “Abe Sapien” leaving “B.P.R.D.” to be the only title to advance the ongoing story of the Mignolaverse.  With word that it would be coming to an end as well, I was expecting this to provide the finale for this vast, weird, and thrilling universe created by Mignola.  We’ve even been told what to expect:  With this age of man coming to an end it’s down to the members of the B.P.R.D. to fight for the best of mankind’s essence to pass over into the next age.  More than anything else, that’s what I wanted to see in this volume!


However, if you’ve been paying attention to the solicitations from Dark Horse you’ll know that there’s a new “B.P.R.D.” series called “The Devil You Know” starting in the next month or two.  It’s not a flashback or anything as the solicitation text made it clear that it’s following up on the aftermath of the story in this volume.  I was… disappointed to learn that as it meant “Cometh the Hour” wasn’t going to deliver on what I wanted to see here.

This is after vol. 13, the last proper volume of the series, left us with the Black Flame dead but one of the Ogdru Jahad still running loose on Earth.  No longer under anyone’s control, the Ogdru Jahad has been spewing dozens of Ogdru Hem by the hour as it slowly makes its way across America.  With the B.P.R.D.’s Colorado headquarters currently right in its path.  The only frontline in this struggle is the one provided by Liz Sherman and her flames along with Johann and the vril power he’s able to tap into via the Sledgehammer armor.  Meanwhile Director Nichayko follows the demon girl Varvarra through Hell in the hope that evil can be used to fight evil in this battle.


If we’re judging this by previous big “B.P.R.D.” storylines, “Cometh the Hour” actually compares pretty favorably.  There’s a genuine larger-than-life threat here in the form of one of the big bads of the Mignolaverse ruining everyone’s day.  We also get some impressive spectacle in the form of Liz and Johann using their powers to destroy the many Ogdru Hem on a scale we haven’t seen before.  There’s also some last-minute assistance from Hell that leads to a “Godzilla vs. Giant Men” situation as it’s called here.  It also draws upon other stories, in small ways from “Sledgehammer ‘44” and large ones via “Hellboy in Hell.”  If you haven’t read at least the first volume of “Hellboy in Hell” then the Nichayko/Varvarra sections may just confuse you.  Of course, if you’re this far into “B.P.R.D.” I realize that may be a non-issue.


We also get several deaths in this volume as well.  A couple of them have even been a part of the Mignolaverse since the days it just consisted of “Hellboy” miniseries.  The majority of them are handled pretty well, and I’m left with only one instance where I’m confused about the motivations of one of the characters.  One is clearly heroic in spite of the plot mechanics necessary to get to this character’s sacrifice.  Another is a well-executed take on a character being led up the garden path to the point where I thought this person might actually survive.  I was mistaken, which tells you how well this particular trope was executed.


By the end of it all there is, if not a sense of closure, at least the feeling that a page has been turned in the saga of the B.P.R.D.  What they gain in battle during this volume feels earned and a welcome change from the constant sense of impending crisis that has driven this series almost since day one.  The problem here is that “Cometh the Hour” never really transcends being just another “big” story in this series.  I mean, this was the FINAL arc for the ongoing series.  The main antagonist was the Ogdru Jahad — the legendary dragon that Hellboy’s right hand was meant to have kept sealed.  I should’ve felt gripped from the first page and exhausted but relieved after reaching the end.


That I didn’t feel these things is likely because this arc buts up against the creators’ limits as storytellers.  Mignola and Arcudi haven’t really gone in for a lot of fate-of-the-world stories in the course of writing “B.P.R.D.”  Even when things went to hell at the end of “King of Fear” we only saw the destruction in a couple pages with the effects of it being conveyed through the cast’s reaction to it.  That’s not a bad approach and most of the best moments in “Cometh the Hour” are the quiet ones where the characters are just talking to each other.  Even when they’re handled in a very sinister fashion in the case of Nichayko and Varvarra.


By comparison, the big stuff isn’t as interesting.  The missile strike against the Ogdru Jahad that kicks off the volume should’ve set the stakes dramatically high for the opening act.  Instead, it winds up feeling like a formality.  Something that needed to be done to establish its threat.  Also, while the threat of the Ogdru Jahad is clear the fight against it mostly comes down to Liz and Johann fighting faceless Ogdru Hem.  That they acknowledge the futility of their actions in the face of the numbers they’re fighting doesn’t make it any more exciting.  Then you have the subplot involving Johann coming to terms with the great power invested in his armor referred to as the Infinite.  You may think that accepting such power would involve more than an exclamation of “Oh my God!” but you’d be wrong here.


I do think that some of the shortcomings here are also the fault of the artist Laurence Campbell.  There are a few times where he’s able to capture the grand scale of the conflict at hand, but more often than not — such as in the opening missile attack — it looks fairly perfunctory.  Much like the writers here, Campbell is much better in the more intimate sequences as he gives them an appreciable atmosphere of doom.  The parts in Hell are particularly impressive in this regard and show that he can effectively channel Mignola’s style when the story calls for it.


There’s a moment towards the end where one character remarks on another’s heroic sacrifice, “You can see what’s coming.  You know you’re only delaying the inevitable.”  It lets you know that the end of the age of man is still coming, but has just been put on hold now.  I like the fact that it gives the B.P.R.D. a rare win.  Said win comes at the feeling that Mignola and Arcudi were just playing for time here.  With the ongoing title wrapping up they wanted to go out with a bang, just not too big of one to wrap up the Mignolaverse itself.  On that level, they succeeded.  Don’t expect the world from “Cometh the Hour” and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come away more satisfied than I did.

Superman vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son

I want to like this series more than I actually do.  The setup of Superman being a new father is neat, I like his new son Jon, and we get to see the two of them go on adventures where dad can be as big a damn hero as he wants.  Whether it’s foiling some small-time robbers at the local county fair, escaping from Dinosaur Island with the last of the Losers, or helping Frankenstein and The Bride capture an intergalactic fugitive, these stories feel tailor-made for Superman to handle.

So what’s missing?  Well, even though it’s great to see Superman being unabashedly heroic again writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason aren’t doing much new here.  It’s hard not to enjoy stories that have Clark enjoy a night out at the county fair with his family and foil a robbery by not breaking cover, smack around some dinosaurs and a giant ape, or trade blows with Frankenstein.  While the father-son dynamic between Supes and his son does add something of a new perspective on these stories, they still manage to play out as straightforwardly as you’d expect.


All of this isn’t actually bad, it’s just too beholden to formula to be really entertaining.  I’ll save my actual feelings of disappointment to the Superboy/Robin team-up two-parter.  Here’s something that should’ve been easy to make work:  The first team-up between Superman and Batman’s sons.  Seeing this superhero odd couple try to work together should’ve made for the most entertaining story in the volume.  Instead, Tomasi and Gleason spend too much time on showing how much these two don’t get along that the feeling of brotherhood the writers are trying to sell feels hollow.  This is clearly meant to be a lead-in to the “Super Sons” series Tomasi is writing, and it winds up setting a low bar for him to clear there.


Fortunately the artists involved in these stories, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, and Gleason himself, are thoroughly invested in making these adventures look as exciting as possible.   Jimenez brings lots of warmth and energy to the “Smith” family’s night at the fair, making ordinary adventures and superheroics look fun.  Mahnke was clearly born to do a story where Superman and his son fight dinosaurs, and his work on the Frankenstein story isn’t too bad either.  My one issue with his work here is that I miss the rougher linework I’ve seen from him in the past.  The thin style he has on display here does the job well enough, but it’s not his best work.  Gleason’s art is probably the best part of the Superboy/Robin team-up — all exaggeration and energy.


Maybe I’m too old and familiar with superhero tropes to fully get into the stories being told here.  It’s possible that what’s here would be best appreciated by kids who are Jon’s age.  Still, I’d rather see Tomasi and Gleason try to give us something genuinely new rather than rely on the new Superman/Superboy dynamic to make things entertaining.  Maybe we’ll get that in the next volume as they follow up on what Grant Morrison started in “The Multiversity.”

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol. 2

As far as getting an actual superhero story about Miles Morales’ adventures in the Marvel Universe, this volume is a step in the right direction.  The main issue here is that “Miles Negotiates the Fallout From ‘Civil War II’” isn’t really a proper story.  It starts off with our protagonist getting a call from Tony Stark to talk about the new Inhuman who can see the future through a precognitive version of profiling.  The narrative then goes on to touch upon a couple key events of the crossover while also weaving in story threads from the previous volume.  It makes for a choppy read where everything is pretty much defined by how the characters are reacting to events that are happening outside of the series.


It’s a testament to the solid character work from Bendis that this winds up being less of an issue than I’m making it sound.  Taking in the characters’ discussion of these events, whether it’s Miles coming to his dad about whether to join Stark’s side or not, or Miles’ Mom trying to find out what Jessica Jones knows about her son, the characters’ actions and emotions feel genuine and relatable.  Actually, all of the cast has something worthwhile to contribute to Miles’ struggle, from regular supporting cast members Ganke and Fabio “Goldballs” Medina” to guest-star Ms. Marvel.  So when they all come together in the next-to-last story to help Miles come to grips with his showdown in D.C. with Captains America and Marvel, and Iron Man it winds up being cathartic and heartwarming in all the right ways.


Another reason all the character drama works so well is because the artist illustrating most of it, Nico Leon, has a really appealing style.  Leon has a style that at once appears effortlessly grounded, but also allows for enough exaggeration to make the characters’ actions lively along with the action.  Sara Pichelli returns for the final story, a one-off detailing the new complications in Miles’ dad Jefferson’s life now that he’s back working for S.H.I.E.L.D.  It’s a solid piece of work that shows, when he puts his mind to it, Bendis can take a familiar setup from another (spy) genre and make it effortlessly work within the context of the Marvel Universe.  Overall, this volume shows that even if we’re still left waiting for a proper superhero story about Miles’ adventures in this universe, having him talk through his issues with friends and family is a setup for a good read nonetheless.

Karnak: The Flaw in All Things

A strain of bitter cynicism flows through all of Warren Ellis’ work for Marvel.  Usually this manifests as characters openly mocking superhero conventions while expressing their friendly contempt for their comrades-in-tights.  When done right, this can enliven familiar setups as seen in “Nextwave:  Agents of H.A.T.E.”  Applied incorrectly and you get a strained superhero bitch-fest like “Avengers:  Endless Wartime” that makes you wonder how these people can function as a team at all.  Ellis “Karnak” miniseries is probably the first time this bitter cynicism has been the whole point of the exercise.  We’re introduced to the Inhuman who trained himself to see the flaw in all things contemplating a stone cube and telling his students at the Tower of Wisdom that they are no better than these stones before he’s whisked off to a S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost in the North Atlantic.  It turns out that a teenager who has recently undergone terrigenesis was kidnapped by an A.I.M. splinter group.  Karnak agrees to get the kid back for a million-dollar fee from S.H.I.E.L.D. and, from the parents, the single thing which allows them to believe that the universe is a kind and wonderful place.


That should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of person we’re dealing with here.  Ellis paints a picture of a man who was born without any gifts, denied the chance to change through terrigenesis, and then spent the rest of his life learning how to break things and bring everyone down to his level.  Make no mistake, this is a vicious and mean-spirited book to read but that actually makes it feel somewhat refreshing compared to most other Marvel comics.  It works because that approach fits with the character of Karnak as established here and isn’t just doing these things for the sake of doing them.  The writer’s approach is also distractingly on-the-nose at some points, though his random bits of nastiness don’t feel as out-of-place as they have in his previous Marvel work.  Gerardo Zaffino and Roland Boschi provide some effectively warped artwork that further makes this not a book for everyone, but one that I found to be an interesting portrait of a person who exploits the flaws in others because he doesn’t want a better life for himself than that.

Assassination Classroom vol. 15

I went into this volume with high hopes regarding the promised origin of Principal Gakuho Asano.  What turned this once-caring educator into the ruthless victory-at-any-cost authoritarian that we’ve come to know in this series?  As it turns out, the reason why is pretty straightforward:  He felt responsible for the death of a student and changed his methods in the hope of preventing it from happening again.  This is all explained in the first chapter so Asano’s origin doesn’t wind up being as epic or exciting as I was expecting.  The wrap-up of the current arc in the next chapter is also free of surprises, though I did appreciate seeing how Koro-sensei manages to connect with the principal using his compassion.  Superman would definitely approve, even if this doesn’t necessarily take Asano off the board as an antagonist.  If anything, I expect we’ll see him back in another volume or two ready to beat the tentacled teacher on his own terms.  Maybe even without the dirty tricks.


While the opening to vol. 15 was something of a letdown, the rest of it is anything but.  mangaka Yusei Matsui kicks the narrative into high gear with a series of surprise revelations.  It turns out that one of the students has been a secret assassin since the very start of the series!  This revelation does threaten to run up against one’s suspension of disbelief, particularly when you consider that this student has always been one of the more well-adjusted and upbeat ones.  What saves is that Matsui commits to it fully by further revealing that not only does this student have a very personal connection to the (deceased) teacher that started Koro-sensei on his career, but they have a special and familiar weapon at their disposal to help take him out.


The fight that ensues is as crazy as anything the series has done, only with some gripping emotional stakes thrown in as well.  Even if it all ends for the best — if you’re expecting otherwise, why are you reading a Jump manga — the stage is set for the reveal of the title’s most important origin of all:  Koro-sensei’s!  Though the lead-in does kind of ruin my ongoing analogy of this series being a really good “Superman” story, it still promises to be everything that Asano’s was not.  At least, it had better be consider how key Koro-sensei’s origin is going to wind up being to the series as a whole!

The Walking Dead vol. 27: The Whisperer War

The previous volume was my pick for best comic of 2016 for these reasons:  It took a storyline that I wasn’t quite sure about — Negan escaping and falling in with the Whisperers — and managed to get some quality material out of it.  Then it served up a final-page twist that I did not see coming and still made perfect sense given what had come before.  Following up something like that is a tall order by any standard.  Then you toss in the fact that this is the first major “War” storyline to come after the epic two-volume “All-Out War” arc and the expectations become even higher.  Oh, and there’s that nagging feeling that after Rick and company came out ahead in the last war they’re due for a loss here.  That’s a lot of baggage to deal with.  Fortunately for us, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are well aware of all this and try their damndest to mix things up as best they can here.

There’s one minor spoiler I have to give away regarding the plot here:  Negan does survive to deliver his “payload” back to Rick in Alexandria.  Even though you really couldn’t fault Dwight for ordering that he be shot on sight.  The information the former leader of the Saviors brings back does prove to be useful and he strikes up a deal with Rick to get a measure of freedom after the war is over.  Provided he survives being placed on the front lines during this conflict.


Even though their leader is gone, the Whisperers are still a force to be reckoned with.  Beta steps up and immediately unleashes a horde of a thousand zombies against the settlements.  While the size of said horde is certainly something to be reckoned with, it soon becomes clear to the settlement forces that the Whisperers are perfectly willing to get hands-on in this conflict as well.


As I said above, I was expecting things to go badly for our protagonists, and Negan, in this war after the last conflict ended in their favor.  Having them win one war felt like a great triumph over the odds and in spirit as well.  For them to do it again is asking for diminishing returns to set in.  Still, I can’t say that I wanted to read a story where the main cast gets its ass handed to them by a group of human skin-wearing zombie-cohabitating psychos.


Kirkman, as is usually the case with this series, is aware of this too.  Even if this volume can’t match the high drama of “All-Out War” the writer shows that he still knows how to manage the momentum between sides in this smaller conflict.  While the Whisperers have surprise and cleverness on their side, the settlement forces have guns and some clever thinking of their own.  That allows the battles that play out to be immensely compelling as you’re never quite sure who’s going to come out ahead.  Or if the victory that results will be a pyrrhic one rather than an actual one.


Though this makes for a very engaging core conflict between the sides, the volume’s major disappointment is that the volume ends with the actual threat being revealed.  It turns out that the Whisperers and their herd of zombies were only the prelude to the real threat which is revealed to be bearing down on Alexandria at the end of the volume.  It has the result of diminishing the threat of what has come before rather than raise the stakes for the next battle.  I still want to know what happens next, even if this story was basically one long prelude to that end.


I’m also curious to see where Negan’s character arc is going to take him.  I can understand that some readers are going to be upset that he’s allowed to live after all he’s done so far, but I’m not one of them.  While I would’ve been fine with seeing him dead after the end of “All-Out War,” Rick made the harder choice to let him live and show him the error of his ways.  The crazy thing is that it looks like that approach has actually worked.  Though Negan’s basic untrustworthiness is addressed in a conversation early on between Rick and Dwight, they acknowledge that he’s had every chance to screw them over before now and hasn’t.


Now he could be playing a very long game here that involves re-assuming control of the Saviors, but that feels like the obvious easy choice.  Plus, that community is shown to be getting along just fine under their current management.  So fine, in fact, that the residents of Alexandria will likely be finding out firsthand in the next volume.  Yet I don’t think Kirkman is setting things up for Negan to become the big bad all over again.  You don’t give a character in that role a big emotional moment where he acknowledges his feelings towards the real Lucille in relation to his infamous bat.  He may be a monster but that scene shows that there’s still some humanity lurking underneath his charismatically profane and ruthless exterior.  Making Negan into a sympathetic character who wants to work with Rick for the betterment of all is certainly a huge challenge.  It’s also one that Kirkman looks like he’s ready for.


Even though this volume shows off a war that’s only six issues long, there’s still a satisfying density to the story being told.  That’s mainly because Kirkman and Adlard break down the story into as many panels as needed to convey the maximum amount of information on a given page.  Where a conversation between Rick, Andrea, and Negan about the latter’s actions might’ve gone on for a few pages in a regular issue, they do it in two here over the course of twenty-three panels.  Adlard also breaks out the sixteen-panel grid multiple times in this volume when the story needs to check in with multiple characters and locations.  Throwing all of this information at the reader has the risk of overwhelming them, but Adlard organizes things in a way that everything is easy to process — ninety-nine percent of the time.


I can say that “The Walking Dead” is headed in a good direction after the events of its latest war.  Even if the events of it were merely prologue to everything that’s set to come next.  In the face of the fact that I was prepared for this volume to buckle under the weight of my expectations, I can live with that.  Now I have to live with the waiting game for the next couple of months to find out just what happens next.  Only with fewer expectations now.

Batman: Night of the Monster Men

For the first major Bat-crossover of the “Rebirth” era the creators involved are going all Kaiju Big Battle on us.  While the entire Bat-team is getting ready to provide emergency assistance to Gotham as a hurricane bears down on the city things take a turn for the crazy when a giant monster starts barrelling down the streets.  It turns out not to be the only one and the team’s efforts are now split between fighting the monster menace and evacuating the citizens in their way.  Things get worse when the monsters are revealed to have regenerative/mutative properties and be just the tiniest bit contagious, while a lichen in the evacuation cave starts to cause everyone inside to riot.  Taken together all of this starts to come off as more than a little… Strange?


“Night of the Monster Men” is a propulsive event that barrels through its six issues at a breakneck pace.  It’s mainly the work of writer Steve Orlando, who scripted the event and co-plotted it with regular “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” and “Nightwing” writers Tom King, James Tynion IV, and Tim Seeley.  That this is mainly coming from one writer is probably the main reason it reads so cohesively and is able to keep up its momentum to the end.  Even so, Batman and company vs. Giant Monsters isn’t exactly a new idea and the story is so focused on the action that it doesn’t have time for any memorable character moments.  There is an interesting idea about how the monsters represent the main antagonist’s diagnosis of Batman’s personality which manages to save the story from being a completely mindless thrill ride.


The art, from Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, and Andy MacDonald is generally solid with all three showing that they can deliver some impressive-looking monsters.  Rossmo is the standout as his wiry style is appreciatively unconventional next to the other two artists here.  This event also isn’t quite stand-alone as it involves certain characters and references specific events from the most recent volumes of “Batman” and “Detective Comics.”  So if you’re like me and reading both of those titles then this one is basically a necessary read.  It’s not a bad one, but I can’t say it has much appeal for anyone who isn’t already involved.