June 16, 2019
Hope may have died in the previous volume, but Luke, Leia, Han, R2, and Threepio are still alive and kicking. Unfortunately, even help from ace smuggler Sana Staros isn’t enough to get them through Imperial space undetected. Now they’re stuck on the isolationist moon of Hubin home to Clan Markona. They’re an easygoing bunch of military types who are enjoying the quiet life after their leader, Thane, secured them this moon as a home as payment for a job from the Republic. Or was it the Empire? While Leia and Han don’t have problems finding enough on this quiet planet to keep themselves occupied, Luke is going stir-crazy with the thought of what the Empire could be doing while they’re stuck on Hubin. So he’s got plans to find a way off the planet, regardless of what kind of trouble they may bring.
After the high drama of “Hope Dies,” “The Escape” is a nice little comedown chapter from writer Kieron Gillen and new artists Andrea Broccardo and Angel Unzueta. The new artists are a welcome addition to the series, particularly Unzueta as he manages to nail the photorealistic vibe that previous artist Salvador Larroca kept trying for in a way that feels much more natural here. The story itself is kind of lightweight, but executed with enough cleverness to keep you engaged. Gillen knows what kind of story you’re expecting when we’re introduced to a group as outwardly friendly as Clan Markona and he does his best to not tell that one.
It was also nice to see the writer nod to other stories in the Marvel “Star Wars” universe in ways both small and large. Doctor Aphra gets name-checked in an amusing way while Sana isn’t the only Jason Aaron creation to be featured by Gillen here. “The Escape” also succeeds in building excitement for the writer’s final arc, “The Scourging of Shu-Torun.” Leia says her plans to make that planet worthless to the Empire aren’t about revenge, but I’m honestly not sure whether or not to believe her. We’ll see what kind of results the rebel offensive produces next time.
June 15, 2019
Nathan Bright doesn’t quite have it all, but what he does have is pretty good. He’s the most popular weatherman on Mars thanks to his wacky personality and crazy on-air antics. So while fame and fortune are his, he’s got a personality that doesn’t really encourage the ladies to call back for second dates. This is why he’s so surprised when Amanda calls him back and the second time is looking like the charm for Nathan. At least it is until some nasty bounty hunters show up to take in this weatherman. For some reason they think that he’s part of the biggest act of terrorism the Solar System has ever seen: The extermination of 18 billion men, women, and children on Earth. Unfortunately for Nathan, they’re not the only people who believe this. The Martian Government doesn’t just think the weatherman was involved in that incident, they think he may be the only way to keep something like it from happening again.
Believe it or not this story of intense sci-fi action comes to us from the co-writer of “Shirtless Bear Fighter” Jody Lehup. Though “The Weatherman” is miles away from that series in tone and execution the writer’s skill at worldbuilding and creating memorable characters is a great asset here. Nathan’s a very likeable and sympathetic protagonist and the ways he deals with being wanted for a crime he knows nothing about feel very believable. There’s also a strong supporting cast made up of a bitter government agent, a mercenary who has a complicated past with said agent, and a scumbag selling pay-per-view vengeance across the Solar System. This cast and the world they inhabit all have an energetically detailed look to them courtesy of artist Nathan Fox. He delivers some incredible action scenes as Nathan is chased all over Mars and even the more esoteric stuff like when our protagonist is tortured within his own mind. This is a very strong start for what’s going to be a series-of-miniseries and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lehup and Fox take the title character next.
June 14, 2019
Well, Wizord and Ruby Stitch had a good run in our world but it looks like it’s coming to a very violent end. It’s all down to the return of vengeance-seeking Frenchman -- now with magic of his own -- Jacques Zaques. While his initial attack doesn’t go quite the way he was expecting, Jacques soon meets up with one Mr. Opaque to get some magical training. It’s during this training that he hits upon an idea that’ll put Wizord in a world of hurt: Putting together a magical team. Wizord has made lots of enemies since arriving on Earth and convincing them to team up to put the wizard in the ground may wind up being the easiest thing Jacques does in this series. While this is going on, Wizord and Ruby find out that the Hole World the wizard created for the people who were in the stadium he zapped away is actually a really nice place. Margaret, on the other hand, is still confused about her actual relationship to the two magical people, but has a bigger problem on her hands when it comes time to meet her secret crush in Australia.
As the penultimate volume in this series “Queen Margaret” does a decent enough job of setting things up for the endgame. I say “decent enough” because Jacques’ story is really the only one driving the action for the majority of the volume. Barring a couple plot-relevant scenes here-and-there, it feels like writer Charles Soule didn’t have much of an idea about what to do with his main cast while Jacques got his act together. So he just had Wizord and Ruby zone out on the couch and Margaret get involved in some sitcom-level mistaken-identity shenanigans. Artist Ryan Browne does what he can to keep all this interesting, but that’s a really tall order when the opening scenes have him drawing the Titanic, reanimated as a monster boat, chowing down on Jacques.
Things really don’t kick into full gear until the final issue. That’s when Jacques’ team really starts putting the screws to Wizord for all that he’s done. We also find out just how the Hole World wound up the way it is in a way that sets things up for some time-travel causality shenanigans next time. Then you’ve got Margaret making her move and it’s not something you’d expect -- because it involves tigers. It’s all good stuff that leaves the series in a good place as it heads into its final volume, even if it took its sweet time in getting there.
June 12, 2019
The flaws of this series are forgivable under the scope of its ambition, ideas, and amazing art.
June 10, 2019
I’ve always wondered what “Murcielago” would look like when it finally shed its constant desire to shock, titillate, or disturb the reader. With vol. 10, I finally have my answer. More than that since it also sheds any attempts at (ridiculous) over-the-top action like we saw in the previous volume. It all starts when Kuroko, Hinako, and some of their girlfriends make a trip to the local aquarium. Hinako really wants to see the new tiger shark there, but Kuroko winds up seeing it first and witnesses the shark barfing out a lot of blood and a severed human arm. One autopsy later and it’s revealed that the arm wasn’t bitten off by the shark, it was severed by some kind of blade. That leads Kuroko and Hinako on a trip to the rural harbor town where the shark was caught to fish up some answers.
If I’m being completely honest, I kind of miss “Murcielago’s” wilder, trashier side. It managed to effectively trade on shock value for a lot longer than I was expecting it to so this murder mystery does feel somewhat dull by the title’s standards. I mean, the previous volume involved a city-destroying mecha battle. Having Kuroko and Hinako follow that up by digging into a missing persons case in a harbor town with no action at all feels like an attempt by mangaka Yoshimurakana to troll her readers by being deliberately boring.
Even so, the core mystery in this volume unspools well enough and the fact that the local Christian Church is involved suggests that the mangaka might be saving the really disturbing stuff for next time. Given Japan’s history with that religion I’d be extremely surprised if Yoshimurakana didn’t have something incredibly bloody and/or horrific to show off involving its practitioners. Anticipation for vol. 11, however, doesn’t quite make up for finding out that straightforward “Murcielago” isn’t as interesting as wild and crazy “Murcielago.”
June 9, 2019
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Even when that thing is seeing privileged, arrogant, and condescending icy blonde white schoolgirls put in their place? I realize that’s a rather specific categorization, but it’s wholly appropriate to this “Empowered” spinoff volume. As the title implies, it’s a team-up between Emp and her former frenemy Sistah Spooky which follows loosely on from the events of vol. 8. In that volume, Emp and Spooky went to Hell to confront the latter’s Infernal Service Provider and get the soul of Spooky’s girlfriend out of its fiery pits. Things didn’t go exactly as planned and now the ISP has come back to lock Emp and Spooky in a pocket high school hell dimension filled with the latter’s former classmates who are all looking to get a piece of her for getting a better infernal deal than they did.
This vengeance takes the form of traditional high school encounters exaggerated to horrific effect. From biology dissection subjects which come to life, to singing competitions overseen by demons, to monsters made out of cafeteria food, there’s no part of high school life that isn’t mined for its awful subtext. That’s the biggest problem with this miniseries as there’s so many of these encounters and they all basically play out the same way: Emp and Spooky are rushed to the latest encounter, they’re terrorized by the white girl(s) du jour, then Emp and/or Spooky find a way to turn the tables and it’s off to the next nightmare. It’s debatable whether this would’ve sustained four issues, but at six it just feels like overkill.
I’ll admit that this is in spite of writer/creator Adam Warren and artist Carla Speed McNeil doing everything they can to energize the proceedings. Warren’s dialogue has bite and he’s more than willing to dive into all of the issues of class, race, and privilege which the subject matter brings up. McNeil thrives on all of the craziness she’s been given to draw, making things like demonic texting and emojis come off imaginatively on the page. The problem is that their talents are spent propping up a repetitive idea of a story. If they had deviated from the established setup to tell a different story, rather than the same one over and over again, then this would’ve been a far more worthy and engaging spinoff.
June 8, 2019
Much like the first volume Jimmy’s Bastards vol. 2: What Did You Just Say? is one of the writer’s better recent comedic efforts. This doesn’t mean that it’s particularly funny, unless the sight of seeing an insane Sean Connery-alike humping someones leg or men walking around with ginormous breasts sends you into irrepressible giggle fits. That last bit is actually pertinent to the plot of the volume which has MI-6 agent Nancy trying to reverse the “gender fluid” epidemic which has swapped the genders of everyone in the world. She’s going to have to do it without Jimmy’s help, however, as he’s still massively traumatized from finding out in the previous volume that he was tricked into having sex with all of his daughters. Russ Braun’s art is still great, the story’s execution is surprisingly solid for how ridiculous it all is, there’s an actually amusing bit of comedic ultraviolence in the final issue, and we’ve got the occasional moment where Ennis manages to make a decent point about modern-day standards. None of these change the fact that we really didn’t need a parody of James Bond’s worst excesses in this day and age, let alone one that can’t manage to be consistently funny.
Despite this coming as a follow-up to the original “World of Tanks” miniseries, World of Tanks vol. 2: Citadel is actually a prequel. We get to see what Karl and Freddie, two of the German tank operators from the previous mini, were up to during the Battle of Kursk while also getting a look at a Russian tank squad and how they have to deal with the awful British tanks they’ve been given. If I’m being generous then the book’s all-over-the-place focus is an attempt by Ennis and artist P.J. Holden, who does his level best with the setting and characters, to mimic the chaos and uncertainty inherent in war. The good news is that whichever way you wind up feeling about that, Ennis’ traditional focus on ordinary people trying to do their best to survive the horrors of combat hasn’t lost its appeal. Even if the characters here are a bit less defined than in his other war stories. Of which “Citadel” finds itself being in the middle of that particular road, yet still quite readable nonetheless.
June 7, 2019
For a series where the majority of its first volume built up the mystery of the place known as The Black Barn, it took some real guts from creators Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino to actually show off what it was in the same volume. Now that they’ve done that, what does the series have to offer us? An appreciatively creepy aesthetic and mysteries that only enhance its scary appeal as the characters in this series try to reconnect with The Black Barn. For Norton Sinclair and his doctor Angela in the urban sprawl that is Gideon Falls, they hope to find some release from the web of horror that is slowly closing in on them. In the case of Father Fred and Deputy Clara Sutton who reside in the quaint rural community that is Gideon Falls, it’s to find a measure of redemption and a missing brother, respectively. But how can there be two different versions of Gideon Falls occupied by these characters? And why does Norton have the same name as the man regarded as the community’s first murderer who died on the same day The Black Barn was first seen?
There are plenty of mysteries in “Gideon Falls” and they tend to outpace the answers that Lemire chooses to dispense to the reader. That’s actually not a problem so far as I’m enjoying the creepy aesthetic that he and Sorrentino are pursuing here. They’re all about creating eerie, surreal imagery that leaves the reader uneasy as they turn each page. In fact, it’s mainly because of Sorrentino’s work that I’m enjoying this series as much as I am coming after the relative disappointments of Lemire’s “Royal City” and “Descender.” The artist is the writer’s most capable artistic collaborator yet with his willingness to engage in experimental layouts, and surreal panel designs while maintaining a consistently appealing style to the characters and their world. Two volumes in and I still have faith that Lemire knows where he’s going here -- even if the route now looks like it has more in common with “The Dark Tower” than “Twin Peaks.” Yet it’s Sorrentino’s work here which proves to be the real incentive for me to stick around in “Gideon Falls.”
June 5, 2019
The Wicked + The Divine vol. 9: Okay
Yes, Kieron Gillen does seem to find his way up here quite frequently. It was honestly a tough choice this month between this and… well, it probably won’t be too hard to guess what other title I was considering for this spot when you start reading past the break. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have done a great job of setting things up for the finale of this series. Vol. 7 explained lots of things and set up an impressive cliffhanger which hinged not on despair but hope while all the specials in vol. 8 added some extra depth to the overall story. Now we’ve come to the final volume and everything is set up to make the reader feel like we’re about to see Persephone put one over on the (almost) immortal Ananke. I’d have no complaints about seeing that happen, except Gillen is the one who set it up. Nothing he’s written has ever been that straightforward and I’m sure there will be a twist or two (or three, or four…) in this final volume. Nothing that will make me want to use this volume’s title as an indication of its overall quality, I hope.
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June 3, 2019
The first volume of mangaka Shuzo Oshimi’s latest look at how the life of a milquetoast male is upended by an unconventional female didn’t get off to the best of starts in my opinion. There was some drama to be had in seeing how shut-in Isao Komori wound up in the body of high school girl Mari, but it was of the conventional and familiar kind. Vol. 2 isn’t as much of an improvement over that as I would’ve liked to see even though it digs further into the complications Isao faces in Mari’s body. Complications like doing makeup and the far more difficult task of maintaining Mari’s relationships with other girls. That last bit takes a dramatic turn for the worse when Isao/Mari goes with her friends to hang out with some boys at a nearby mall and winds up wittingly and unwittingly sabotaging every important relationship she has. Including the one with Yori, the sole person who knows about her situation.
We find out that Yori has her own reasons for wanting to get Mari back and they seem to imply some kind of unrequited romantic affection. This, along with the amateur detective stuff she and Isao/Mari get into with these two volumes, is enough to make me want to see where Oshimi is going with this character. So it’s a little disappointing to see her shoved into the background for the majority of vol. 3. Not helping vol. 3’s case either is the fact that it’s mostly an extended cringe read as Isao/Mari’s life falls apart in exactly the way you’d expect. From dealing with the complications from the one bit of female physiology we all knew he was going to have to deal with, to the loss of her social status, and a forced bit of romanticism from one of Mari’s male friends, much vol. 3 seems designed to make the reader feel as uncomfortable as possible.
At least Oshimi makes an effort to move the plot forward by the end of that volume. Unlike all of the cringe-read stuff that preceded it, I didn’t expect the mangaka to have their protagonist directly address the problems facing them in this manner. It leads to Yori getting back in the picture, an interesting revelation about Mari’s relationship with Isao pre-body swap, and even the current Isao getting swept up in things. All of this is enough to give me renewed hope for the series. It’s not the best place for a series to be in after three volumes. Yet it’s enough to give me hope that the Oshimi who made “The Flowers of Evil” and “Happiness” such compelling reads will show up eventually.