April 12, 2021
So it turns out that THIS is the penultimate volume of “Ajin.” Mangaka Gamon Sakurai sure had me fooled with the ending of the previous volume. As it showed Kei getting up and starting the climb out of the sewer to face off against his nemesis one last time, I was ready to expect things to be wrapped up here in vol. 16. So what do we have instead? A whole volume of most of the cast running around trying to get Sato while he proves once again that he’s the only guy in this series worth rooting for. I’m sure not rooting for Kei as he just continues to fail here while also getting a moment of amnesia that’s incredibly dumb even by this title’s usual standards. In the cast’s favor, Manabe comes through in his last-minute plan while Tanaka and Sato’s final(?) encounter actually kind of worked for me due to the latter’s blitheness. Ko and Akiyama also helped out some by doing the one thing they’d be hard pressed to fail at: acting as meatshields.
There is one thing in this volume that does stand out by not being business as usual. After fifteen volumes, and with the end in sight, Sakurai has decided to finally give us the origins of Demi-Humans. He does this by having a couple of randos pick up Dr. Ogura and ask him about it. Which the doctor gamely replies by saying, “It all began 13.8 billion years ago…” and provides an explanation that feels like a whole lot of bullshit. Yet it’s bullshit that the doctor looks to be enjoying himself with and the outlandishness of the explanation, which involves pre-universal existence, some cavemen, and the energy of the human heart is at least something. Much like the series itself, I enjoyed it. Just not for the reasons that the mangaka likely intended. Still, anyone still taking this series seriously is likely to be put out by all the wheel-spinning this volume consists of and I think we’ll all be glad to see this series put to rest in vol. 17.
April 11, 2021
With all of the “Star Wars” titles transitioning over to the post-”Empire Strikes Back” period, it’s unsurprising that Marvel has decided to launch a new “Darth Vader” series to go along with them. The movie may not offer as ideal a jumping off point for such a thing as “A New Hope” did, but writer Greg Pak has found a good one by digging into Vader’s mind during his battle with Luke at Cloud City and his son’s subsequent escape. You see, Vader is PISSED at the fact that Luke wouldn’t join him and rather than using that as a chance for some self-reflection, he’s decided to take it out on those responsible for hiding his son away from him. His search takes him first to Tatooiine, then to Coruscant, and then to the remote planet of Vendaxa, where he comes face-to-face with someone that he never thought he’d see again.
By the time this is all done, Vader will be before Palpatine again with the Emperor admonishing his servant for wallowing in grief. When I read this, I thought, “You know, he’s got a point.” There are A LOT of flashbacks to scenes from the prequel trilogy as Pak tries to play up the Jedi Vader used to be versus the Sith Lord he is now. While there is some novelty in trying to suggest that these movies had more emotional weight than we all know them to have, it’s eventually lost through overuse as it eventually feels like the writer is using them as a “cite to text” approach in his thesis statement. In the end, it’s much as Palpatine states: Five issues of Vader wallowing in grief.
It’s possible things could’ve been helped along with better art. Raffaele Ienco illustrates these five issues and he can deliver the expected “Star Wars” look with an appreciable level of detail. Unfortunately there’s a stiffness to his characters and action that saps the more dramatic scenes of their weight. So while there are some scenes that feel like they should knock your socks off -- like when Vader takes on a giant underwater sea beast -- they don’t hit as hard as they should. Still, I can see what Pak was getting at here even if the execution didn’t quite land. I will say that Palpatine makes a convincing case on the last page to check out vol. 2 as he has his own plan to help Vader get his groove back.
April 10, 2021
Max Wilding is a scientist who believes that interdimensional travel is possible. He also believes it’s really dangerous, or else he wouldn’t be working in a lab with his fellow scientists on a robot that can travel between them. The good news is that when they finish it and turn it on, all of reality isn’t destroyed! Instead, because he was plugged into the robot, Max winds up with visions of other, sometimes hellish, realities. It isn’t until the second time that the robot is activated that reality starts coming apart at the seams and Max is visited by a robotic version of himself 277 years in the future. There’s a being loose in the timestream called the Nihilist and he’s looking to take advantage of this newfound chaos to make it so that nothing has ever existed -- which sounds very on-brand for him. Which leaves it up to Max, Robo Max, and their scientist friends to save reality from the imminent threat of non-existence!
If that sounds like a wild setup for a four-issue miniseries, you don’t know the half of it. “X-Ray Robot” is less an actual story than an excuse for creator Mike Allred to just draw whatever he wants. From psychedelic interdimensional travel scenes, to mundane suburbia struck by tragedy, to a big fight on a giant garbage island, to his enduring creator-owned creation Madman, this is Allred at his most unrestrained. Which means that it’s a very stylish visual feast for those that are a fan of the man’s art. I definitely fall into that camp and I can certainly say that I enjoyed this miniseries while also admitting that its plot is basically a whole lot of nonsense masquerading as one. This is definitely a miniseries best appreciated by the creator’s existing fanbase, but it’s definitely more enjoyable than you’d expect something that’s “for the completists” to normally be.
April 9, 2021
Coates’ previous volume of “Captain America” was something of a mess in terms of its plot and its art. “All Die Young” turns things around a bit as it delivers some straightforwardly satisfying superheroics. Most of these focus on Cap and co.’s efforts to take down one of the Lukins’ inner circle: Mutant soul-sucker Selene, who has set up shop in the town of Adamsville, Ohio, and is selling a gospel of manhood to anyone who will listen. This leads to Cap, Bucky, and Sam going undercover to get a firsthand look at the situation while Sharon Carter and the rest of the Daughters of Liberty try to figure out how to break the literal spell she’s cast over the town. It’s a pretty straightforward superhero story with a solidly relevant political allegory and decent art from Bob Quinn. Fans of Sharon, however, will likely get a real kick out of the ending as she gets a major change to her status quo while putting one of Norman Osborn’s most eye-rolling gimmicks to better use.
After that, it’s back to catch up on what Alexa Lukin and her husband Alexander are up to. Though the latter’s resurrection has brought back the Red Skull, Alexa feels that this is more of an added benefit than anything else. This is because while Alexander may be willing to do a lot of things for power, the Skull is capable of doing the rest. I still think that Alexander/The Red Skull’s return works as a great metaphor for fascism’s fashionable resurgence, and that gives the storyline an extra charge as Cap and friends prepare to storm the bad guys’ stronghold in Madripoor to rescue their friends. Daniel Acuna and Leonard Kirk provide some very good art for these issues and I think they manage the talking-to-action ratio better than the main story. The volume as a whole does feel like it puts Cap in the backseat for anything that actually drives the plot, but I only see that being a problem if it persists through the end of Coates’ next and final volume.
April 7, 2021
Paul O’Brien over at “The X-Axis” has made it clear that while he likes the overall direction of Jonathan Hickman’s “X-Men,” it stumbles along the way when telling individual stories on a month-to-month basis. I feel that the series is in better shape than that, but when I read this volume of Aaron’s “Avengers,” I finally got what he was feeling. With this volume it becomes clear that the writer has a cool idea behind his run as the team finds out who their real enemy is. I just wish that its big centerpiece story was as interesting.
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April 5, 2021
Getting new manga from Naoki Urasawa after years of nothing over here should’ve been a reason to celebrate. Except that “Mujirushi” was a flawed attempt at telling a heist story with some nods to other media and politics that fell flat. His short story collection “Sneeze!” was par for the course for these kinds of things: It had some good ones, some okay ones, and some bad ones too. Were these things proof that the master who gave us works like “Monster” and “20th Century Boys” (along with “Pluto” and “Master Keaton”) had lost his touch? I certainly didn’t want to believe it.
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April 4, 2021
I don’t want to say that the existence of this series is proof that we’re living in the worst timeline. It’s just that if we were in a better timeline then I’d be writing about the fourth volume of writer John Layman and Afu Chan’s “Outer Darkness” instead of mourning its demise in this one. Instead, I’m writing about Layman’s return to the universe of his signature series “Chew,” with new artist Dan Boultwood. Whose existence is actually proof that we’re not quite living in the worst timeline. This may be another case where the first volume winds up feeling like the first issue of the series, but it’s a welcome return to this crazy, zany world that brings a different perspective along with it.
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April 3, 2021
John and I have gone back and forth at one time or another about the idea of representation in comics. I’m all for seeing diversity in stories regardless of the setup. Which is why you’re reading a review of a new series about female pirates. John isn’t against the idea of diversity at all. He’s just not going to check out a title solely on that basis as he needs there to be something actually new being done with the story. I bring this up because this first volume of “A Man Among Ye,” by writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Craig Cermak, helped me to understand his perspective a little better.
That’s because this female pirate story doesn’t do anything that I haven’t seen before. Real-life pirate Anne Bonny is its protagonist and she’s living it up at the start of the story as first mate to “Calico” Jack Rackham as they’ve just plundered a British ship for all its coin. What they don’t know right away is that they’ve also picked up a stowaway, with a secret that you’ll likely see coming before it's revealed at the end of the first issue. It’s also likely that you’ll be able to guess how the story’s mix of subterfuge, betrayals, murders, and explosions will play out by the time this volume reaches its end.
This first volume of “A Man Among Ye” is one of those cases where it’s not a matter of the above-mentioned events being done badly. Phillips gives us a likably spiky protagonist, and some crewmembers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, while Cermak does a capable job of capturing the look of the era and telling a clear story. What vol. 1 doesn’t have is anything that surprised me or cast any doubt on the idea that I had seen this all done before. I’m all for the idea of a female-centric pirate series, but I’m considerably less excited by the realization that they’re not going to be any different from the male-centric ones I’ve already experienced.
April 2, 2021
These are the penultimate volumes in Bendis’ tenure on the Man of Steel. It wasn’t supposed to play out this way, but after the massive changes at DC parent company AT&T/Time Warner, the writer might just be feeling lucky to still have a job there writing “Justice League.” Still, it has to sting. Especially after he got the go-ahead to have Superman reveal his secret identity to the world. You don’t do something like that without having long-term plans for it. (At least, that’s what I’d like to hope.) So when it comes to reading these volumes, I’m taking them in with an eye towards how well they set up potential finales for their respective series. On that level, both do a reasonably decent job of that.
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March 31, 2021
Rob is back as we try to find out if "Calvinball" is a good basis for an "X-Men" crossover.