This series about the beginning of Darth Vader's infamy is inextricably linked in my mind to its predecessor. For worse, and for better.
Meiko’s regression to a childlike personality has been an unwelcome yet necessary development for this series. That’s because in order for the student council to be a credible threat to the Shadow Student Council, she had to be taken off the board. The good news is that the rest of the cast has been more than ready to pick up the slack left by her current situation and there have been some really funny moments and interesting stories told over the course of the series since then. Still, “Kid Meiko” has been a drag on the series, serving only to be an albatross around the collective necks of the protagonists.
NO MORE! With this volume Meiko finally makes her long-awaited return to her former self and it is glorious to behold! To see her steamroller over all of the student council’s plans is immensely gratifying while the utter ridiculousness of seeing her do it while she’s got Kiyoshi, Mari, and Hana clinging to her is the series at its sublimely ridiculous best. Giving this a run for its money in the “sublimely ridiculous” department is the ongoing story of the Chairman which is also wrapped up here. Not before the words “That is the ass of an honest man” are uttered and we’re forced to bear witness to the sight of two grown, naked men posing together in something like the shape of a Furby to stave off a bear attack.
This is all great stuff and it’d be even better if it didn’t feel like mangaka Akira Hiramoto was slow-walking us readers to get to it. Between crises about exposed breasts, pasties, excessive sweating, near-death experiences, Kiyoshi coming down from his manic state in the previous volume, it really felt like the mangaka was trying to stretch out the time necessary to get to the good stuff. It’s especially grating when it all leads to a cliffhanger ending for this volume. Then again, it could just be that the drawn-out pace of this volume is just Hiramoto trying to keep the good times going for as long as he can. I say this because if what I’ve heard is correct, then the saga of Kiyoshi and friends comes to an end in the next volume and “Prison School’s” darkest secret is about to be revealed.
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When Bendis brought the original five X-Men -- Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey -- to the present day in “All-New X-Men” there was only one way their story was going to end. That would be with them going back to their original time. This is something that the writer never demonstrated that he understood in the stories he told with these characters. While subsequent writers Dennis Hopeless and Cullen Bunn did their level best with that setup and even wrung some good stories out of it, “Extermination” is the expected end to the whole saga of these time-displaced X-Men. What we get with this five-issue event series from writer Ed Brisson and artist Pepe Larraz (with Ario Anindito pitching in on issue #4) is the brute-force method of wrapping up their story. I say this because it involves a villain who has had no relation to their story, or even a notable presence in recent X-Men comics, coming in to ruin everyone’s day. That would be Ahab, the mutant-hating time traveller from Rachel Summers’ timeline showing up to kill the time-displaced X-Men before they can go back to their own time period.
There’s a “Calvin and Hobbes” quote that I’ve always liked which is applicable here: “If you can’t go for reason, go for volume.” While it may have worked for Calvin, it’s less effective as the main strategy employed by the “Extermination” creative team. Brisson and Larraz throw up an energetic, tireless front as they burn through conflicts and action scenes at a relentless pace over the course of the miniseries. Which is good because the story they’re telling really doesn’t have any substance to it. “Extermination’s” two goals are to shuffle the time-displaced X-Men off of the board and introduce some major changes in the Summers family. It accomplishes those goals in a way that leaves little room for any kind of emotional attachment to the story being told. It winds up accomplishing all this in a serviceable manner, which isn’t as good as it should be for a story that’s very necessary to the current state of the “X-Men.”
(Hey, new e-mail for any real people who’d like to comment and discuss what I’ve written or talked about recently!)
Doctor Chelli Aphra is the “Star Wars” equivalent of Indiana Jones with more flexible moral standards. When given such a character to write you’d think that most writers would settle for having her find a lead on an old Jedi/Sith/Republic artifact and come up with some clever moral/physical complications for her to overcome in pursuing it. Simon Spurrier is not “most writers.” No, Spurrier is the kind of writer who will look at that premise and wonder be about bringing the character face-to-face with the awful choices she has made and seeing how she responds to it. While also looking for an old Jedi/Sith/Republic artifact or two.
The Odinson may be back on the job as Thor, but he’s still without a Mjolnir. Good thing that he’s got his friends in the League of Realms to make him all the hammers he needs. He’s going to need them too after Loki shows up with an offer to send him right where he needs to be in the War of the Realms. Which would happen to be Niffelheim, the ice-cold land of the dead where his other brother Balder, Skurge, and Karnilla are leading the resistance against the assault led by Sindr, the Queen of the Ashes. That all of this culminates in a wedding where Thanos shows up to express his objections to the nuptials shouldn’t come off as too surprising for anyone who has been following the enjoyably over-the-top storytelling that Aaron has employed in this series so far.
What really surprised me about “God of Thunder Reborn” were two things. The first being the upending of my expectations regarding how the main story was going to turn out. Coming in so close to the “War of the Realms” event, I was prepared for another story about how Thor and his comrades were going to lose more ground to Malekith’s forces. Especially after Loki showed up. That it didn’t, for reasons which I didn’t see coming, really made my day. New artist Mike Del Mundo’s gonzo artwork was also pretty cool to behold as well.
The other surprise this volume had to offer was in the ongoing story of Old King Thor and the new struggles he’s facing after bringing the Earth back to life. It turns out that this has attracted the attention of some of the few remaining cosmic entities who aren’t too happy about how Thor has meddled with the natural order of things. This leads to some really spectacular fights, amazingly rendered by Christian Ward, where the writer shows us how crazy things can get when he’s not working within the constraints of the present-day Marvel Universe. It’s a satisfying cosmic slugfest that ends by showing us that the worst (or maybe the best…) is still yet to come.
Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley delivered a solid reason to keep reading “Amazing Spider-Man” in the post-Slott era with the previous volume. Ottley is off for this volume and veteran Spider-artist Humberto Ramos is on for this volume, but he and Spencer keep the good times rolling here. He gets on my good side almost immediately with the opening two-parter that deals with the escalating friction between Peter Parker and one of his roommates: Fred Meyers, who is also the supervillain known as Boomerang.
Why is it time for another one of these? Even after doing this I’ll still have enough manga to write about for the next month. That’s also not taking into account that my “to buy” list has almost reached critical mass before I make another order through The Right Stuf. So sit back and enjoy these in-brief thoughts on the latest volumes of “Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction,” “One-Punch Man,” “Golden Kamuy,” “Pandora in the Crimson Shell,” and “Kaguya-Sama.”
“Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire” was one of last year’s most pleasant comic surprises in that it managed to make the title characters’ romance seem interesting again. To the point that their surprise wedding in the pages of “X-Men: Gold” actually made a certain amount of sense. Now they’ve got their own ongoing series to explore their newlywed life, starting with the honeymoon! As both characters are members of the X-Men, said honeymoon is off in outer space where Rogue and Gambit can enjoy some quality time alone together. Naturally that doesn’t last as Kitty contacts the two to let them know that one of their Shi’Ar allies has a package that needs to be extracted out of the Empire. Being the closest to the problem, it falls to Rogue and Gambit to deal with it, along with everyone who wants the package. Which includes the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard, the Technet, and… Deadpool?
Believe it or not, the Merc With a Mouth’s presence makes a certain amount of storytelling sense as he and Rogue were apparently an item in the pages of “Uncanny Avengers.” Dealing with that feels more relevant to the title pair’s struggle than the main story of Shi’Ar intrigue and genetically engineered offspring, which comes off like a plot point that’s being set up for future stories. Fortunately the characters’ charm shines through all the plot complications and the fighting to the point where you’re always rooting for them to beat the bad guys and come out ahead in the end. The effectively stylish art from Oscar Bazaluda in the main story only adds to their charm and the story’s quirkier bits too.
Writer Kelly Thompson saved the best for last, however, as the final issue is the couple’s housewarming party which features all sorts of fun superhero complications. By that I mean unexpected guest appearances from the likes of Gambit’s ex-wife, his dad Jean-Luc, the Thieves Guild, and Magneto. The drama and humor complement each other in this story, which comes off as a fun X-Men hangout session ably sold via the excellent art from David Lopez. Certainly not a bad start to the couple’s marriage, though the final story is a better example than the main one of what I’d like to see from this series going forward.
Writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have some interesting ideas about what to do with Sabretooth in these volumes. They start with having him lead the team on a mission to Russia that has the feral one tangling with none other than Omega Red. He actually manages to strike up a bond with the psychotic Russian mutant, and that’s just one of the surprises vol. 4 has to offer. I’d say more, but “Russian Revolution” is a fun ride that ends in a place that I didn’t expect it to and is all the better for it. That’s more thanks to the strong character work from the writers, with their handling of Sabretooth providing some of the best material he’s had in quite some time. Yildray Cinar and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz also provide solid artwork for this volume, even if their respective styles are the definition of “wildly incompatible.”
Sabretooth’s leadership of Weapon X comes into its own in the following volume, “Weapon X-Force,” just in time for the series to be cancelled. Even though it didn’t have a “color” name, “Weapon X” was caught up in the “Great Color Cull of 2018” to make way for the new “X-Force” series. Quite abruptly too as the ending feels rushed given what Pak and Van Lente were setting up here. It revolves around a genuinely bonkers twist regarding longtime X-villain Reverend Stryker that has Sabretooth and the rest of the team actually fearing for their souls and trying to stage a pre-emptive strike on Hell as a result. If only the story was able to work itself up to the level of craziness that last sentence implied it had. All of this builds up to a rushed conclusion which suggests a more feral future for Sabretooth and not much else. Which is really disappointing for a series that I found to be surprisingly entertaining until now.
Thanks to the magic of (limited) press passes, John, Myron, and myself all made the trip down to WonderCon in Anaheim this year. We only went down for Saturday but we were still able to cram in a lot of worthwhile sightseeing, shopping, and panels into the trip. As for the panels, we didn’t get to see a whole lot. The ones we did get to see were, of course, pretty entertaining and even enlightening in parts.