Comic Picks #252: Secret Empire

December 13, 2017

Neither the worst Marvel event series nor without its own problems either.


Murcielago vol. 4

December 11, 2017

Could it be?  A volume of “Murcielago” that doesn’t contain anything to aggravate or offend me and focuses only on providing gleefully violent fanservice?  Well, you could argue that there’s some transphobia in the representation of the figurehead of the cult at the center of this volume and Kuroko engages in some more questionable behavior with Rinko in this volume as well.  Even if you can’t completely discount these things they’re either a minor or fleeting part of vol. 4 which is close enough for me to call it a win after vols. 1-3.


The main story, which involves Kuroko infiltrating an all-female cult to rescue one of its members, does offer an interesting twist on how you’d expect this story to go.  Most “infiltrating a cult” stories tend to hinge on the protagonist being strong-willed enough to resist or eventually overcome the brainwashing they’re subjected to.  In the case of Kuroko, she willingly submits to the cult’s embrace because they not only tempt her with the promise of being able to have sex with every girl there, but the biggest, blondest, and breastiest girl there all but throws herself at our protagonist.  It’s no surprise to see Kuroko get flipped to the other side -- she’s being offered to live in her own kind of paradise.


Of course, when her yakuza girlfriend Chiyo finds out about this she grabs her katana and heads straight to the cult’s headquarters, with dim-witted “ninja” Hinako as company, to get her woman back.  Even if the results aren’t as action-packed as I would’ve liked, the story still manages a decent amount of suspense as I was wondering how it was going to resolve itself right up to the climax.  So yeah, vol. 4 is an improvement over what has come before.  Now let’s see if mangaka Yoshimurakana can keep the upward trend going through vol. 5.

The Wild Storm vol. 1

December 10, 2017

For me, and a lot of other fans, Warren Ellis was the defining creator of the WildStorm imprint.  While it had a lot to offer followers of great superhero art prior to his arrival, the writing on most of its titles could charitably be described as “total crap.”  His debut on “Stormwatch” didn’t change things overnight, but a title that was originally seen as a third-rate “X-Men” knockoff in a market full of them suddenly seemed a little sharper and a little smarter and went on to improve from there.  Fans took notice as Ellis introduced characters and concepts -- Midnighter, Apollo, “The Bleed” -- that are still being used in the DC Universe today and which led to the breakout successes of “The Authority” and its contemporary “Planetary.”


Ellis had been long absent from the imprint by the time the final issue of “Planetary” shipped, but you could see the impression he left in subsequent iterations of “The Authority” and titles like “Stormwatch P.H.D.”  The WildStorm imprint has been dormant for a while now, but with the success of DC’s “Rebirth” initiative it’s now getting a relaunch of its own.  Only now the difference is that it’s just one man re-imagining the imprint’s entire universe and characters.  “The Wild Storm” at least has the good fortune to be handled by the creator most associated with its quality and even if this first volume is the kind of slow burn that Ellis loves to traffic in these days it’s at least one of his better ones.

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The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan!

December 9, 2017

It’s not that there haven’t been “The Walking Dead” spinoffs outside the comic before.  They’ve just been limited to shorts appended to issues spotlighting certain characters or Comic Book Legal Defense Fund annuals.  “Here’s Negan!”  originally serialized in the first sixteen issues of “Image+” is the first spinoff to be long enough to warrant its own collection.  At sixty-four pages it’s a brisk run through the pre-Savior life of the series’ most lovably hateable villain.  It starts off with showing how he managed his life as a foul-mouthed gym teacher and awful husband to his wife, Lucille.  That changes when she’s diagnosed with cancer, but all turns out to be for naught when she passes away… just as the dead start coming back to life.  From there, Negan is forced to make his own way through this savage new world because everyone keeps letting him down by dying.


Schedule for the ongoing monthly title notwithstanding, Kirkman and Adlard probably could’ve spun this story into a six-or-twelve issue miniseries.  As it is, “Here’s Negan!” manages some impressive economy in showcasing the character’s evolution from well-meaning but fallible funny asshole to the brutal leader we love to hate in the comic.  The character is given a pretty involving arc with the creators hitting all the right beats in the limited space they were given to work in.  I’m also pleased to report that the “AH-HA!” moments that can ruin a good prequel by spelling out exactly how a character became that way are kept to a minimum here.


While the story itself is told well in the space it was given, it’s worth noting that it ends just as Negan comes into his own.  Those of you expecting to see how he built up the Saviors or scarred Dwight won’t get that here.  It should also be noted that this sixty-four page collection will set you back $20 for the oversized hardcover edition it currently exists in.  I would say that definitely limits its appeal to only people who are already huge fans of the comic and are dying to learn more about Negan’s backstory.  If that sounds like you, then pick this up when you get a chance.

Doctor Strange vol. 3: Blood in the Aether

December 8, 2017

Magic in the Marvel Universe is on the mend after the Empirikul’s crusade in the previous volume, which leaves us with a greatly diminished Doctor Strange.  This is a fact which has not gone unnoticed by his rogues gallery who have descended to make his current week a living hell.  As well as an actual Hell thanks to the presence of Satanna the Devil’s Daughter.  In addition to her, Strange has to face off against foes both old, new, and the Orb.  Why him?  Well, Jason Aaron is still writing this title and there’s no way he wasn’t going to use his most favorite pet villain in the Marvel Universe and follow up on his new vocation as the Watcher (Who Likes to Interfere).


Though the good Doctor may not have the kind of magic he’s used to relying on to face these threats, that just means he has to get more creative about how he deals with these villains.  Which is generally good news for us as we get to see Aaron come up with some deviously, and in one case disgustingly, clever ways for his hero to get out of the situations he finds himself in.  The majority of these triumphs are pulled off well with Strange’s triumph against the Hell Bacon (yes, that’s a thing here) being a high point.  Unfortunately this cleverness isn’t quite sustained through the end of the volume with the final face-off being more of a brute-force showdown leading into a cliffhanger ending.


Former “Doctor Strange” artist Kevin Nowlan drops by to illustrate half an issue, a flashback tale to the time when Strange was just starting out on his journey into magic.  It’s great work as you’d expect from the man, but the most impressive thing about the issue is how its other artist, Leonardo Romero, actually comes off pretty well in comparison as he handles the present day sequences.  Chris Bachalo illustrates the majority of this volume and as usual he’s perfectly suited to the craziness that Aaron has him draw.  Also as usual, Bachalo is accompanied by his usual army of inkers and I’m only bringing this up because his work here is one of those times where it looks a little less consistent than usual within each issue.  We’ll see if he can pull it together for the next volume to close out what has been an entertaining run chronicling Strange’s adventures so far.

Star Wars: Screaming Citadel

December 6, 2017

Marvel’s first “Star Wars” crossover was a no brainer between the ongoing series of the same name and “Darth Vader.”  It certainly had its moments and great art, but it didn’t really accomplish much besides shuffling the cast around between the two titles.  This time around “Star Wars” is crossing over with the lower-profile “Doctor Aphra” series and it’s clear that there’s less pressure to deliver a major blockbuster event here.  That works in the story’s favor as “Screaming Citadel” delivers a much weirder and more satisfying reading experience.

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Frau Faust vols. 1 & 2

December 4, 2017

Seven volumes in and Kore Yamazaki’s “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” remains one of the most entertaining titles I read.  It’s mix of excellent characterization, meticulous worldbuilding, and imaginative storytelling is something I continue to look forward to with each volume.  While you would think that the mangaka would have her hands full with this title alone, Yamazaki has also found the time to deliver another at the same time.  Her work ethic is commendable to be sure, but the main thing about these first two volumes of “Frau Faust” is how they show that B-grade Yamazaki still has its charms.

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Batman: Detective Comics vol. 3 — League of Shadows

December 3, 2017

It feels like damning with faint praise to say that writer James Tynion IV has turned in a better volume of “Detective Comics” this time around by simply not attacking the underpinnings of the superhero genre.  Tynion instead delivers a story that, as you’d probably expect given the volume’s title, pays off on all the setup regarding the League of Shadows buildup over the past two volumes.  For years Batman has dismissed the existence of the League as a ghost story -- something Ra’s Al Ghul told his men to keep them in line.  Batwoman’s father, Jacob Kane, believed differently and created an entire military-trained organization to fight it.  Now the League is finally ready to make its move and someone far worse than the Demon’s Head is leading the charge.  Her name is Lady Shiva and she’s come for two reasons:  To burn Gotham to the ground, and to see if her daughter is worthy of her attention.


Tynion is nothing if not a capable writer and the results of his efforts here are entertaining enough.  He does a good job of making each member of the rather large cast gets a moment to shine, with Orphan making the most of her time in the spotlight here.  The main issue I have with his story is one of familiarity.  Once things get going it’s pretty easy to see the scope and direction of the plot and there aren’t any surprises along the way.  Well, save for the reason why Batman was ready to dismiss the League as a myth all this time.  The explanation behind that was pretty clever and delivered with relish by one of his oldest villains.


Marcio Takara and Christian Duce handle the majority of the art for this volume and they both turn in capable but unexceptional work.  They certainly tell the story well enough, though the only real difference between their styles is how Takara really likes to dial up the shadows in his work.  I just expect better art from a mainline “Batman” book in the end.  That sentiment can probably be applied to the quality of the writing as well, but it’s still nice to see Tynion put some effort into making you care about this fairly straightforward story.


December 2, 2017

Readers with long memories (or the ability to click on this link) may recall that I’ve had my eye on this series ever since it was first solicited.  It’s got a setup that’s just wrong enough to get me interested:  Edwyn used to be a serial killer.  He retired after he met Virginia online as she helped to calm his “urges.”  They’ve had a great decade together, and then Virginia gets kidnapped by a Louisiana billionaire who figures he can use her as leverage to get Edwyn to take care of a problem of his.  Edwyn agrees because he’d do anything for Virginia, the love of his life.

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Image Previews Picks: February 2018

December 1, 2017

Netflix bought Millarworld last month and the “Kick-Ass” comics are coming to Image until the streaming company figures out this whole “publishing comics” thing.  There’s going to be a new “Kick-Ass” series featuring an African-American mother of two who is also a veteran of the Afghanistan war.  While having a minority protagonist for the next iteration of this commercially successful series would normally be a good thing, I have one reservation.  That would be the fact that Millar is such a cynic that he’s doing this only because he wants the progressive plaudits and can turn them into sales along the way.  “But Jason,” I hear you say, “We know you really don’t like Millar’s work so aren’t you just reaching for another reason to hate on him with this?”  I’ll admit that might be true.  Except even when Millar is trying to be progressive in his work, he can still find a way to spoil it with his trademark crassness.  So we’ll see if anyone cheering the new announcement about the protagonist for this new “Kick-Ass” series is doing so after its first arc is over.

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