September 19, 2021
The title birds only figure into the first few pages of this volume, but their brief presence is enough to let you know that Magpies are serious business. It’s enough to convince Bridgette that she needs to find her daughter Mary before her dalliance with Merlin and Arthur begets more violence and tragedy. Which is why she ropes Duncan and Rose into visiting a biker bar full of white supremacists to get some answers. Things go badly for our ostensible Percival, until another story decides to intervene and Rose finds herself having to step up for this particular conflict. What follows involves a trip to Otherworld, an encounter with the greatest of knights, a couple conversations held at gunpoint, and a big friggin’ dragon as well. Oh, and we get to finally find out what the other Grail Knight’s role in this story is meant to be.
My biggest issue with this volume is that this other Grail Knight doesn’t stick around long enough to see what he’s wrought. (Well, it’s possible that he may stick around in a particular form, but writer Kieron Gillen already tried that trick in “The Wicked + The Divine.”) The rest of the volume is more concerned with subverting expectations. Whether it involves the introduction of another story, the government’s role in Bridgette’s long history of monster hunting, or the appearance of a job well done, nothing really goes to plan in vol. 3. I appreciated Gillen’s efforts in that regard, along with Dan Mora’s always-excellent art as he gets even more fantastical things to draw in this volume.
Still, if you’re worried that “Duncan, Bridgette and Rose Fight Legendary English Monsters” was going to be this series’ sole trick, Gillen has you covered. There’s a substantial change to the status quo over the course of this volume which assures that vol. 4 of “Once and Future” will look considerably different than the previous three. It also means that things will be going from bad to worse for a good portion of the English population, but I have a feeling that their misery will be great fuel for our entertainment.
September 18, 2021
At the beginning of this volume we get the story of the Phoenix of 1,000,000 B.C., with some impressively burly art from Dale Keown. At the end of this volume we see Blade transition out of the Avengers into a job he was born to do with some less-impressive, but still nice art from Luca Maresca. In between, we get five full issues of superheroes, and a couple super-villains duking it out to see who will become the next host of the Phoenix. The all-powerful cosmic entity has been summoned to Earth by Namor, who fully intends to make the most of her power. Except that the Phoenix isn’t about to hand over her might just because a sea-king came knocking. No, she wants a full-on tournament to decide who’s the most worthy of wielding her power. That’s not the only reason she’s dropped by Earth, however. She also wanted to say “Hi” to her son after all these years as well.
This is a difficult volume to review since I was spoiled for its key revelations prior to reading it. I imagine that the mystery of who will be the next Phoenix will be a lot more interesting to those who don’t already know who the winner is. (Ditto for the stuff about the Phoenix’s scion.) The good news is that there’s still a decent amount of entertainment to be had from watching the fights play out on their own terms. From Captain America’s efforts to try (and fail) to find a way to lose while subverting the Phoenix’s plans, to the Black Panther’s schemes and dirty fighting to make sure that this power doesn’t fall into the right hands, there’s more going on here than just some cosmic-level fisticuffs. The impressively detailed and kinetic art from Javier Garron (with a pitch-in issue from Maresca) also helps sell the drama and action quite well. All this leaves vol. 8 coming off better than its predecessor as its main arc entertains while it and the issues around it move Aaron’s main story forward.
September 17, 2021
Aphra eventually managed to give ruthless collector Ronen Tagge what was coming to him in the previous volume. Unfortunately this also managed to put her on the radar of Tagge family head, Domina. Worse still is that Aphra’s actions managed to impress Domina, and now she wants the good doctor to do a job for her. De’rruyet Industries is about to unveil what promises to be a revolutionary new hyperdrive that promises to either change the galactic economy or end the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. Both of these outcomes would be bad for the Tagge Corporation, which is why Domina wants Aphra to figure out what the secret is behind this new hyperdrive before it’s unveiled to the public. The thing is that the history behind this hyperdrive is long and treacherous, so the good Doctor is going to have to rely on some capable backup that she hasn’t backstabbed (recently): Sana Staros.
I didn’t think much of writer Alyssa Wong’s debut on “Doctor Aphra” as it felt more like an exercise in ticking all the boxes in regards to the kind of story that you’d expect to see featuring the character. “The Engine Job” makes a much better impression as there’s a lot more going on here and the execution feels sharper as well. There’s also the fact that Aphra and Sana make a good flinty pair as they track down the hyperdrive’s origins, only to find out that it may not be everything it was promised to be. Wong also does a good job fleshing out her new characters, particularly Lucky the sharpshooter, who finds himself being dragged down by family and past obligations.
This is all good, which is why I’m feeling a little let down by the art. Ray-Anthyony Height, Minkyu Jung, and Robert Gill all do serviceable work here, and not much more than that. I’d hoped that the art would match the improved writing, but that’s not the case here. At least the volume ends with a seamless transition into the “War of the Bounty Hunters” event, which gives me hope that this title will continue to improve with vol. 3.
September 15, 2021
Myron joins me again to talk about this historic "Venom" run and the event series which capped it off.
September 13, 2021
The end of vol. 17 implied that we were going to get some kind of wacky sex-comedy plot as Prince Kazu (who, in case you’ve forgotten, is a woman pretending to be a man) came up with a plan to get pregnant in order to secure her beloved Iemochi’s position as shogun. It goes on like that for a few pages before the series’ brand of political intrigue reasserts itself, and then… tragedy strikes. For a series where it feels like things go bad for the main characters with just about every new volume, this one still manages to hit pretty hard, and we’re still in the first quarter of the volume.
While the emotional fallout from this event is handled well, the political ramifications generally feel like a downer. With a potential civil war brewing, desperate measures are being taken to secure power by both sides in the conflict. The problem is that the leaders on both sides seem to only have their own best interests in mind. Which leads mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga to offer up a variation on the Meiji Restoration that took place in real life. With the Tokugawa facing a deposition from power here just as they did in our world as this series comes to a close.
That’s right everyone, this is the penultimate volume of “Ooku” and the series' strengths and weaknesses are on full display here. The character drama is as good as it’s ever been, and while the political intrigue does intrigue, it also starts to feel like a depressing slog after a while. Perhaps it wouldn’t come off that way if the series hadn’t been mirroring real life in that regard for the past several years, but I’d be very surprised if this series ended on a high note. People familiar with the Meiji Restoration will know that it led to Japan’s modernization. While ending the series with the revitalization of Japan on the world stage sounds like a fine way to end the series, my guess is that Yoshinaga will also find a way to remind us that it also led to the rise of fascist Imperial Japan. I could be wrong, so let’s find out what the case will be together when vol. 19 arrives.
September 12, 2021
Emma Elliot is in the midst of an epically bad breakup. The kind where she’s been curled up in her bed for the past two weeks before some inspired needling from her roommate finally gets her to rejoin society again. However, it isn’t until she meets a mysterious man named Bob that Emma finally has a chance to escape this heartbreak. How? By simply wishing her heart away with Bob’s help. At first, feeling nothing feels great. After a while… well, you can probably guess that the only thing Emma feels is that she’s made a giant mistake. Fortunately for her, Bob has a way to get her heart back. The thing is that her heart is now in seven pieces and she has to get them back from their current owners. This can be done through contract, through trickery, through empathy, or quite literally with whatever sharp object she has on hand.
To give you an idea of how “Heart in a Box” rolls, only two people wind up dead over the course of Emma’s quest. As for the rest, it’s entirely debatable how happy they are that this half-shaven-blue-haired hot mess came into their lives. I, for one, am certainly glad she came into mine. From the start it’s clear that she doesn’t have it all together, but it’s clear that she’s trying her best and this makes her very relatable. There’s also the fact that she’s navigating her way through a very unusual situation, so her anxieties feel credible while her exploits manage to come off in ways that feel surprisingly unpredictable.
It’s that unpredictability that really drew me in here as writer Kelly Thompson and artist Meredith McClaren’s brand of magical realism manages to be funny, sad, adventurous and, yes, even heartbreaking. I picked this up because I’ve really enjoyed Thompson’s Marvel work, and this is proof that she’s told quality stories before she came to the House of Ideas. McClaren’s art is also very energetic and appealing in its wiriness, as Emma feels more sympathetic because she always looks like a bundle of nerves. Some people may find this OGN’s tone and style to be too all over the place for their liking, but if you’re like me then you’ll agree that’s part of its charm, and hope that Thompson and McClaren will find a way to work together again in the future.
September 11, 2021
Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank didn’t heed my advice at all, and so here we are, six years after vol. 2, with the latest volume of their “Batman: Earth One” graphic novel series. To give you an indication of how long it has taken them to get this volume out, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette released their trilogy of “Wonder Woman: Earth One” graphic novels in the space between those two volumes. While Johns and Frank have some interesting ideas about building their own Bat-mythos, it’s really hard to get involved with them after so much time has passed between volumes. This is even before you start to think about when these creators will get around to following up on them.
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September 10, 2021
The original “Steeple” miniseries from creator John Allison was delightful. It wasn’t just the fact that it was enjoyably quirky in a deeply English way, it was also very funny with two winning leads in curate-turned-satanic-priestess Billie, and satanic-priestess-turned-curate Maggie. I wasn’t expecting a sequel, so the appearance of “The Silvery Moon” in the solicitations several months back was a wonderful surprise.
Vol. 2 does have some significant structural changes compared to the first volume and its new status as an original graphic novel. Where the first volume had five self-contained yet interconnected stories, this one only has two longer-than-usual ones. The first sees Billie and Maggie continuing to adjust to their positions in their new churches, and while the latter only faces mundane challenges from the church staff, the former has to deal with the fact that one of her new friends is concealing a terrible disease: Lycanthropy. After those issues are sorted, Billie gets the idea to organize a Saturnalia truce between the churches. This idea runs into a problem when an expedition between the youth group she set up, Godsplann, and Maggie unearths (of all things) a Super Sentai in a nearby cave.
Both stories are great fun as Allison’s talent for effortlessly whimsical comedy is very much on point here. I laughed plenty of times at bits involving the comments made on a rampage through town, the annual Mother Goose play involving the release of a kraken, and Reverend Tom’s plans for punching his way out of a sea monster. The humor and storytelling of this pair of stories is very much what I wanted more of after reading the first volume. This is in spite of the fact that the overall experience feels slighter compared to vol. 1. Still, the quality of “Steeple” is such that I’d still pay the same amount for a third volume of stories about Billie, Maggie, and the weirdly enjoyable goings-on of the town of Tredregyn.
September 8, 2021
“Tall Tales” wants to be “The Godfather, Part II” of this series. I say this because its story moves both backwards and forwards, telling the history of vampires while also expanding on the present day story of the Bowman clan. The history is centered around one character, Nicodemus, who became the very first vampire after he took some ill-advised prompting from a man on fire. This led to millenia consigned to the night as he built a group of followers, some of whom will be familiar to readers, and eventually crossed the seas to the New World. Demus, as he’s known to his friends, tells this history to Greg, who Bartlett and Evil are still trying to find after he disappeared at the end of the previous volume. They finally get their answers when the Vampire Parliament comes knocking, asking for J.V. and the rest of the Bowman family’s help with the upcoming war. You see, Demus has a score to settle with the Parliament, and his first course of action towards making it is to burn Texas down.
As to the reason why Demus has such a beef with the Parliament, that’s one of the areas where this volume falls short. Writer Donny Cates tries his best to give the history of vampires an epic sweep, tying into key points in history. He and artist Lisandro Estherren are only really successful in the opening chapter, a mostly silent tale regarding Demus’ origins. Everything after that comes off as feeling like varying degrees of rushed. Particularly in the bit where Demus’ first war with the Parliament is escalated to that point over the course of six pages.
Still, bits like, “We’re in Dracula’s castle? You knew Dracula?!” are fun, and the present-day sequences are free of the need to condense a couple thousand years of history in a very limited amount of space. They also do a better job of playing up the series’ familiar themes regarding the importance of family, and setting up the final conflict as a whole. By the end of the volume, armies have been readied, blood has been spilled, and two sides are ready to tear each other to shreds. Even if “Tall Tales” doesn’t quite succeed in creating a sweeping historical saga, it fulfills its most important mission: Getting the reader hyped for the final volume.
September 6, 2021
I’m… starting to wonder if I was mistaken about this series.
My impression was that I’d be getting a slimmed-down, all killer/no filler version of the legendary romance between hapless college student Yusaku Godai and pensive widow-turned-landlord Kyoko Otonashi. Compared to the overlong 96-episode anime series that started out strong, but was waylaid by filler. Now that I’m up to vol. 4 I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t a more fundamental problem to the story of “Maison Ikkoku” as a whole.
Which would be the fact that there’s very little, if any, progress to the relationship between Yusaku and Kyoko. It’s as if mangaka Rumiko Takahashi has realized that, with the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between her protagonists, and the wackiness of the various members of the supporting cast, she’s got a sitcom-ready setup that can expand to cover just about any situation. Wacky costume party when everyone catches Kyoko trying on her old school uniform? Check. Baseball battle between rival bars with the Ikkoku-kan team on one side? It’s in here. Night on the town with Godai’s grandma and her old school friends? I really wasn’t kidding when I said “any situation,” you know.
There’s no denying that some of these situations aren’t fun, especially when there’s so many of them over the course of a single volume. It’s just that none of them advance the Yusaku/Kyoko dynamic, and some of them even set it back. What with Yusaku still unable to break things off with his actual girlfriend Kozue, and having two close encounters with different girls in this volume as well. Stuff like that makes him actively dislikeable, even in the light of genuinely romantic moments near the end of the penultimate chapter. I really want to like this series since I know that it ends well. It’s just that everything leading up to it is making it that much harder.