April 24, 2017
“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.
April 23, 2017
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.
April 22, 2017
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.
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April 21, 2017
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.
April 19, 2017
Wherein Brandon Graham and company try to make the best of what Rob Liefeld gave then.
April 17, 2017
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.
April 16, 2017
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.
April 15, 2017
I wasn’t really keen on picking up this title when it was announced. At the time, Rick Remender had burned a lot of his goodwill with me with the relentlessly depressing “Low” and the unimaginative downward spiral of “Black Science.” Then he turned things around on “Black Science” and “Deadly Class” got even better, and now I’m checking out the first volume of his latest creator-owned series to see what flavor of Remender we get here.
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April 14, 2017
Having a miniseries prelude to a big comics crossover event isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the case of “Death of X” it allows for people who haven’t been keeping up with one side (such as myself with the Inhumans) to get on the same page with those who have so that they’re properly invested for the showdown. Having read through this, do I feel properly invested? No, not really. I’ll be picking up “Inhumans vs. X-Men” mainly because I’m invested in the overall direction of the “X-Men” titles. All “Death of X” does is suggest that investment is going to bite me in the ass when it comes to reading the event itself.
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April 12, 2017
In the realm of single issues the X-Men are getting off to their latest relaunch in the wake of the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event. (Though not without some controversy, sadly.) The idea this time is a back-to-basics approach that emphasizes the characters superhero escapades more than anything else. Actually, it’s more of a back-to-the-90’s approach given that the titles of the two core series, “Blue” and “Gold,” are meant to harken back to the best-selling days of the Jim Lee-illustrated “X-Men #1.” For those of us like me who follow the franchise in collected form, we’ve still got the entirety of the event to go. As the latest volumes of “Uncanny X-Men,” “Extraordinary X-Men,” and “All-New X-Men” show, this new approach will be welcome in the hopes that it can get the quality level up to something better than “okay.”
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