February 25, 2017
Last time in “Star Wars” Jason Aaron introduced a promising idea -- that of a jail run by the Rebellion -- only to drown it under conventional, predictable storytelling and see it written out of the series by the end of the arc. It would be hard for him to do worse after that and I’m happy to say that’s not the case here. “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” introduces us to the Special Commando Advanced Recon (SCAR) stormtrooper squad and makes it quite clear from their introductory issue that these troopers are some of the best they have to offer. So while SCAR squad is quickly establishing themselves as a credible threat by swiftly dismantling a rebel cell, our protagonists in the Rebellion are working on pulling off one of their craziest schemes yet. Tureen VII, one of the worlds sympathetic to the Rebellion’s cause, is currently being blockaded by the Empire with all attempts to break through it having failed quite spectacularly. If they’re going to break through it, then they’re going to need to use something big. Something “Star Destroyer” big.
It’s hard not to like the idea of Luke, Han, Leia, and co. setting up a plan to steal a Star Destroyer and use it against the Empire. Granted, the ease with which they pull it off does kind of make you wonder why they don’t try to steal every Star Destroyer, and I’m wondering just how many people they were able to get on hand after we were told that they wouldn’t have nealy enough to meet the minimum 2,000 crew members needed to pilot it. If you can get past those gaps in logic, then this volume does offer an entertaining ride. Particularly when the SCAR troopers show up to complicate things with their deadly set of skills. Even if they were set up to be defeated by the good guys, we do learn an important thing about this squad by the end of the volume: They never leave empty handed, and that’s going to cause some long-term problems for our heroes.
Art for the main arc is provided by Jorge Molina who has improved considerably since his very busy work on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “X-Men: Legacy.” Here, he adopts a style that’s closer to Stuart Immonen’s which does give the arc a lot of energy even if it serves to remind you that the latter is one of the best there is. Mike Mayhew returns to provide art for the “From the Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” interlude and it’s another reminder that he can do incredible work when given enough time. The story itself is fairly “meh” as these Kenobi flashbacks have been, though seeing the old Jedi take on Black Krssantan does perk things up a bit. It also appears to offer a bit of closure for these flashbacks, so maybe we’ll see Aaron try something more interesting whenever he needs to slot a single-issue story into his run.
February 24, 2017
Karen Berger is back! The big news coming out of the ComicsPro conference for Dark Horse is that the company will be publishing a new line of comics from the legendary editor. For those of you who might not know who she is, Berger rose to fame at DC in the late 80’s where she edited numerous titles with offbeat and mature sensibilities. These included “The Sandman,” “Doom Patrol,” “Shade the Changing Man,” and “Animal Man.” Several years later, Berger established the Vertigo imprint under DC for titles that shared those sensibilities and didn’t fit neatly into the DC Universe. The rest was history until she retired from the company in December 2012. People have been speculating that Berger was going to start her own line of comics after that, and now we have it.
While Berger is currently editing “Surgeon X” over at Image, Dark Horse seems like a better fit for her. The company may be more corporate than the creator-owned free-for-all that is Image, but I think that makes them better positioned to support a line that is editor-curated. Plus, they’ve got a long history of respecting creator rights as well. While we shouldn’t expect lightning to strike twice with Berger’s new line, I’m sure they’re going to be worth checking out. Plus, I hear she’s really tight with that Neil Gaiman guy too!
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February 22, 2017
John Layman and Rob Guillory's great, demented series comes to an end and I try to find out if the series was well-planned enough to make its ending work.
February 20, 2017
Longtime readers have probably picked up on the fact that I’ve got a kind of weakness for manga that tackle foreign places and time periods. So it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I picked up the first volume of mangaka Kazuhiro Fujita’s “The Black Museum.” This is actually the second arc in the series, but it’s completely self-contained so far as the title place and its curator serve as a framing device for the stories that Fujita wants to tell. In this case, it’s about a ghost known as The Man in Gray and his association with none other than Florence Nightingale. Before she rose to fame as a nurse who pioneered many lifesaving medical standards and practices, Florence was tormented by her own eidolon. You see, in the world of “The Black Museum” all humans have these supernatural parasites of the soul which are in constant conflict with each other. Except in the case of Florence as her own eidolon is bent on attacking its host. Unable to bear the pain of these attacks, she seeks out Gray in the hope that this ghost will be able to take her life and end her suffering.
Of course, that doesn’t happen and the narrative then goes on to chart Florence’s history with Gray at her side. While the ghost, who has a love of the theater and all things theatric, has promised to take the woman’s life when she finally succumbs to despair circumstances just keep conspiring to prevent that from happening. Though there’s plenty of fun repartee between the two, Gray’s fixation on this subject quickly becomes tiresome because it’s obvious it’ll never come to be. So that leaves the story of Florence’s life -- now with extra supernatural battles -- to pick up the slack. As someone who had only heard of the nurse’s reputation prior to reading this, Fujita’s interpretation is engaging enough. I know not to take it as gospel, but there are plenty of handy footnotes on hand to keep things grounded in fact.
Fujita’s stylized art is also generally nice to look at. He possesses a thin, wiry style that works best when illustrating Gray and the eidolon battles. It’s less effective in portraying human drama as Fujita’s style is keyed up to a high energy level which sends most dramatic scenes straight into histrionics. While I can appreciate the mangaka’s ambition here in telling a story that is decidedly out of the manga mainstream, the overall quality of this first book leads me to diagnose it with a case of “reach exceeding grasp.”
February 19, 2017
Save for a short story in the pages of “Thor: God of Thunder,” this is the first time Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera have worked together since completing their excellent Native American reservation-set crime series “Scalped.” That fact alone was enough to get me to give this series a shot. “The Goddamned” is best described as “Aaron and Guera’s ‘Bible Stories’” since this first volume gives us a rather different perspective on Noah and his quest courtesy of a certain unkillable biblical outcast. This character isn’t named at first, but perceptive readers will likely be able to guess who he is before his identity is revealed. Said protagonist is the hard-bitten loner type who has learned not to care about those around him as he looks for a way to finally die. However, his nihilistic attitudes are soon put on hold as he encounters a woman whose son has been kidnapped by Noah and his crew, to work on the Ark and keep the animals fed, and he decides to help her out. All because the love she has for her boy is a very rare commodity in this day and age.
Guera’s art is the star of the show here as he renders a pre-flood world that is gritty and rotten enough to make you understand why God would want it all washed away. The savagery of the world’s inhabitants is also rendered in stomach-churning detail with very little mercy on display here as well. It’s good that the visuals are this strong because there’s a lot about this story that most readers will find quite familiar, both in terms of story and what Aaron has delivered before. While the arc that the protagonist undergoes isn’t new by any standard, it also falls prey to the writer’s “more is more” tendencies. Things don’t get as bad as the baby-chucking excess seen in “Men of Wrath,” though, the nihilism and anti-God ramblings start to grow old after a while. To the point where the final surprise of the story fails to register because -- in case you didn’t get it -- this world is screwed.
Aaron does serve up some clever lines, an imaginative offensive use of his protagonist’s immortality, and an interesting take on Noah himself. He’s just as much of a brute as his fellow man, but he’s employing this brutality for a higher purpose. All in all, this is probably best enjoyed by people who were completely onboard with what Aaron and Guera were doing in “Scalped” and want to see what they’re like when they’re let off the leash of Vertigo. Anyone looking for a story about Noah which actually embraces hope while not shying away from depicting a world that needed to be washed away is recommended to check out the “Noah” graphic novel from Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon which served as the proof-of-concept for Aronofsky’s film.
February 18, 2017
We’ve reached the end of Fred Van Lente’s tenure as writer of “Conan” and the best way to sum it up is by saying this: It was certainly a thing that happened. I want to say that his run would’ve been better served by having an arc to it, as was the case with the title character’s romance with the pirate queen Belit during Brian Wood’s tenure, but that’s not entirely true. Previous writers Kurt Busiek, Tim Truman, and Roy Thomas had no long-range plans for their runs and they were a lot more entertaining. That’s likely because their work gave the impression that these writers were fully invested in the character and his adventures. Van Lente has seemed content to simply put Conan through his paces as it were, with the most interesting bits coming in the return of familiar characters like Thoth-Amon and Janissa the Widowmaker. Left to his own devices and Robert E. Howard’s source material, the results are considerably less inspiring.
Such is the case with “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Things kick off with Taramis, Queen of Khauran, being secretly deposed by her long-lost twin sister, Salome, who is also the witch of the title. After she lets in the savage Shemites to enforce her rule, Conan suspects that something is up and starts cutting people down only to wind up crucified for his efforts. The time spent with the character on his cross is the most interesting part of the volume, as guest artist Jose Luis ably depicts his savage will to survive amidst hallucinations. From then on it’s the usual story of Conan getting his strength back, assembling an army, and leading it against the witch. It all leads to a very busy finale where Salome employs her magic in ways that could’ve made the rest of the story more interesting. Cullen Bunn is set to take over for Van Lente with Dark Horse’s next “Conan” series and it’d be nice if he can return the barbarian’s comic book adventures to their former glory. If not, well, then I’d say anyone looking to enjoy “Conan’s” adventures with this publisher should just check out volumes zero through sixteen and leave the ones that follow on the shelf.
February 17, 2017
The late, great Steve Dillon. That’s what the artist is now and this latest volume of “The Punisher” represents the bulk of his final work, with his last issue set to be collected in the next volume. Dillon’s work on the character is iconic with his innate ability to perfectly frame a gunfight, creatively render the violence, and have the perpetual scowl he gives Frank Castle absolutely looks like it belongs on his face. All of his skill is on fine form here as the Punisher finds himself up against a crime ring with a killer new drug in its hands. It’s the kind of drug that will turn the weakest crook into a crazy-strong killer, and the distribution is being overseen by Frank’s old army commander Olaf, and an enforcer who goes by the name of Face for reasons which will be fairly obvious once you get to know him. However, the D.E.A. is also on the case as two of its agents, Ortiz and Henderson, have been surveilling the operation and are just about to move in and start making arrests. Assuming there’s anything left to arrest after the Punisher is done with them.
As good as Dillon’s art is here, the script by Becky Cloonan is only average. Pitting the title character against violent drug dealers has been old hat since the days of his ongoing series from the 80’s. The bad guys aren’t really that interesting either. Face’s proclivities will be quite familiar to anyone who has read the second arc of “Preacher,” while the guy who uses his daughter as bait is a halfway decent setup for one whole sequence. With regards to the D.E.A. agents, Ortiz is the more fleshed out of the two though it’s too early to tell if Cloonan is going to take Greg Rucka’s approach to “The Punisher” and make the series more about her than the man himself. There is some interesting work done with Frank himself as his origin is formally and straightforwardly updated from the Vietnam War to Desert Storm and in a way that’s also relevant to the story at hand. Overall, Cloonan doesn’t do a bad job with the writing it’s just that she turns in work that will come off as old hat to anyone who has been reading the character’s adventures for an extended period of time. It’s worth buying for Dillon’s art, but he’s illustrated much better “Punisher” stories than this one.
February 15, 2017
If you went into this volume expecting to see Lewis, Clark, and their associates take on the legendary “Bigfoot” then you’re not going to be disappointed. In fact, they find themselves up against many sasquatches fairly early on, all thanks to the actions of the explorers who came before them. That’s what sets this volume apart from the previous three as writer Chris Dingess delivers two parallel narratives about the exploration of the old Western United States. Prior to Lewis & Clark, there was Helm & Flewelling and their far less prepared expedition. When winter comes they find themselves resorting to desperate measures in order to survive, until Helm gets some assistance from an unexpected source. What follows is a disturbing tale of survival as Helm commits savage acts of violence to survive and make sure his message regarding the future prosperity of America reaches the right people.
In the present day, we see Lewis & Clark putting Helm’s knowledge to better use for the good of the group. While it’s shown to work out well for pretty much everyone, the question now becomes whether or not they’ll be able to use it to do the right thing in the end. “Manifest Destiny” may appear to be a fun adventure series which adds a supernatural twist to the exploration of America’s old frontier, but it has also acknowledged the ruthless measures that were taken in order to tame it for everyone. It’s easy to argue for this approach when the monsters are unreasoning creatures like those featured in the first two volumes. But when “taming” comes down to stabbing the carnivorous bird people who helped you in the back, or taking out violent monsters who are attacking you as a result of what the people before you did, justification becomes that much harder. It’s hard not to notice the Native American presence in this volume and realize where this approach is going down the line. There’s more to this series than I had initially thought, and I’m very interested in seeing how Lewis & Clark deal with the increasing moral complications of their journey from here on out.
February 13, 2017
Do you like lesbians? Do you like mass murderers? Do you like lesbian mass murderers? If you answered yes to all three of these questions then boy do I have a series for you! Yoshimurakana’s “Murcielago” is about Kuroko Koumori, plucked from death row for murdering a ton of people to put her talents to work for the state. So when a pro wrestler goes on a drug-fueled killing spree, she’s the perfect candidate to take him down. Same goes for a German murderer who’s partial to Beethoven and mollywire after he takes over a commuter train. It’s not all business all the time for Kuroko, however, sometimes she has to relax and enjoy herself. That usually involves setting up dates with unsuspecting women through a dating service, getting it on with the daughter of a local crime boss, hanging out with and trying to put the moves on her ditzy handler Ritsuko, and accepting an invitation from a vengeance-crazed millionaire who wants to rid the world of killers like her. It’s never a dull moment when you’re living life like Kuroko is!
Whether or not the reader will feel the same way about her adventures really does depend on how you answered those initial three questions I posed. Mangaka Yoshimurakana isn’t lacking for style in her over-the-top presentation of the action as you can expect to see cars driving fine after they fly off buildings, trains flying into buildings, and a mansion full of enough creative deathtraps to give the makers of the “Deception” games pause. It’s also refreshing to see that there’s no redemption angle being pursued with Kuroko’s job, and the fact that the sex-crazed protagonist of a manga actually manages to have sex (more than once) is certainly novel. The main problem here is that if you’re looking for any kind of depth to the characters or the storytelling beyond their dedication to providing slick, sexy thrills you are going to find yourself thoroughly out of luck. Also, anyone looking for more positive examples of LGBT representation in comics may find themselves put off by the fact that “Murcielago’s” approach to lesbianism is mainly geared towards appealing to guys. That’s part of its clear approach to pleasing its specific audience who will no doubt be pleased with what this volume has to offer.
In other words, expect a review of vol. 2 from me after it arrives in May.
February 12, 2017
Whether they wanted to be a part of it or not, pretty much every Marvel comic released in the past few months offered some sort of tie-in to “Civil War II.” While this proved to be a sure-fire sales-booster for titles who tied into the original event series, this time around has served as a proof of the law of diminishing returns. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good stories told under the “Civil War II” banner. In the case of these two distaff “Avengers” titles from writer Al Ewing, however, their success is directly proportional to how closely they tie into the events of this particular crossover.
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