What I’ve been reading: 1/28/09

January 29, 2009

The podcast will be up soon (by "soon" I mean in the next 24 hours or so).  In the meantime, I've got more thoughts on some recent trade paperbacks:

The Immortal Iron Fist vol. 3:  The Book of The Iron Fist

I really enjoyed the first two volumes of "The Immortal Iron Fist," written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, illustrated by David Aja (and a host of other talented artists), as they were one big epic martial arts action movie in comic book form.   Sadly, it seems that was the only story that Fraction and Brubaker wanted to tell and the series has since been handed off to new writer Duane Swierczinski and artist Travel Foreman.  So what's in this volume?  It consists of two entertaining one-off stories about previous Iron Fists, a special issue about Iron Fist Orson Randall that details the background of one of the other "immortal wepons" from the last arc, reprints of key "Iron Fist" issues from the 70's and an issue where Fraction ties a bow on his run and gets the ball rolling on the next storyline.  It's that last issue that impresses more than anything else as seeing Danny Rand (the Iron Fist around which the story revolves) take a day off to teach kids karate, dissolve the Rand Corporation, hand out blankets to the homeless, and team up again with fellow Hero For Hire Luke Cage has a nice hopeful feel to it without ever feeling saccharine.  While other people might be annoyed at the fact that Fraction ends the story on a big "TO BE CONTINUED!" note for the next volume, I'm not going to complain too loudly since what's here was pretty good.  Also, on a metafictional level, I thought it was nice of him to give readers a reason to pick up the next issue by Swierczinski, since a cult book like this needs all the sales help it can get.

Path of the Assassin vol. 14:  Bad Blood

Writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima's historical drama of Tokugawa Ieyasu's rise to power as abetted by his loyal ninja Hanzo Hattori nears its end with this penultimate volume.  Needless to say, that means you're not going to want to start with this one, but if you've been enjoying the series so far, this is another worthy entry.  After the business of the "three court ladies" from last volume is wrapped up, the series embarks on what is looking to be its final storyline.  As Ieyasu's son is married to fellow warlord Oda Nobunaga's daughter to cement their alliance, Ieyasu's wife starts going even crazier and starts conspiring with the mysterious ninja Toma Eno to keep the two kids from ever consummating their relationship.  Meanwhile, Hanzo winds up having to deal with the fact that he now has three wives and because this is a Kazuo Koike book, that solution is having them all move in together and getting it on with all three of them while preaching about how they're all necessary to him and having stability in his household is key to stability in the country.  Yes, it's ridiculous, but par for the course for Koike and as with all the other similar sex scenes in this series I wouldn't have been able to suspend my disbelief at the drama that goes on in them if Koike and Kojima didn't convey the fact that they were dead serious about these proceedings in each scene.  But the sex stuff is always of secondary interest to the political drama that unfolds in each volume and Toma Eno's machinations make for compelling reading, as does the unfolding subplot that Ieyasu might not be the actual father of his heir.  I am interested in seeing how all this wraps up in the next volume.  As I was expecting the series to end with Ieyasu's coronation as shogun, it doesn't look like the series is going to make it there in the next volume.  So it'll be interesting to see what kind of ending we get that hopefully brings closure to the series without showing the culmination of Ieyasu's dreams.

Gantz vol. 3

While I've forgotten how far ahead I've read in the scanlations for this before I stopped, I'm still enjoying re-reading the series as Dark Horse puts them out.  The thing that strikes me the most about this series now is how squarely it's aimed at the tastes of its main characters (i.e. high school males).  There's plenty of wish fulfillment in the way that bullies are beaten up and in how the series main source of fanservice, Nishi, winds up sharing a room (and bed) with the series ostensible self-centered protagonist, Kurono.  Interestingly, mangaka Hiroya Oku takes a slightly more realistic approach to these events as Kurono and his compassionate friend Kato don't become gung-ho heroes after their part in the alien killing extravaganza of the first volume, but wind up being freaked out by having to deal with these threats that exist in the real world.  Also, Kurono's hopes for a simple first time are shot down in a way I can only describe as logically humiliating.  That said, as fun as it is to see how polar opposites Kurono and Kato react to their new circumstances, it seems that Nishi really only exists to show off her naked body and humiliate Kato.  Not that I have any issues with that, but I need more than that to actually make me care about her as a character.  I also hope that we'll be getting these volumes on a faster (hopefully bi-monthly) schedule in the future, because just as things start ramping up (and get really interesting) for the second alien encounter, the volume ends.  I know it's a good thing to leave your audience wanting more, but the pace of the series is so slow in general, that a faster publication schedule would help ease those issues.

What I’ve been reading: 1/21/09

January 22, 2009

So, I heard Batman died last week.

Yeah.  I don't belive it either, and while I could go on about how comic book deaths never last (most are speculating that Mr. Wayne will escape death the same way Shiloh Norman did in another Grant Morrison comic, "Seven Soldiers of Victory") but someone else summed up the situation in a far better way than I ever could.  In his latest Tilting at Windmills ( http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=19580 because this post doesn't want to add links) retailer Brian Hibbs talks about how DC managed to cockblock themselves in promoting the death of one of their biggest heroes.

That said, onto the reviews:

Star Wars:  Legacy vol. 1 -- Broken

I used to buy EVERY "Star Wars" comic and book that arrived on store shelves for a very long time.  I stopped around the time "The New Jedi Order" series started and (except for re-buying the "X-Wing:  Rogue Squadron" series in omnibi) haven't looked back.  Then along comes a very slow week at the comic shop and I decide to pick this up after hearing good things about it from a friend and the comic review sites I frequent.  After reading it through I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of the good word about the series was true; granted, the status quo set up in this volume doesn't add a whole lot to the series.  Even though the series is set 125 years after "Return of the Jedi" we've still got the Sith, the Empire, the Jedi, a princess (an Imperial one this time), and a Skywalker destined to save the universe.  The Skywalker in question is Cade, Luke's grandson, and as much as he'd like to forget his Jedi heritage in drugs and bounty hunting, the universe isn't going to let him.  So even though there are a lot of familiar elements at play here, veteran writer John Ostrander does a good job putting a new spin on them, and he earns an immense amount of goodwill from me by making Sith Lord Darth Krayt have his own struggles to overcome and not an all-powerful, all-knowing plot point for the good guys to overcome.  I'll be looking forward to seeing where this goes from here.

Groo:  Hell on Earth

The formula for pretty much every "Groo" comic written by Mark Evarnier and illustrated by Sergio Aragones goes something like this:  Groo shows up somewhere -- his stupidity causes untold destruction -- a lesson is learned at the end of the story.  Hilarity usually ensues throughout, but not so much this time.  While the morals for most "Groo" stories tend to be short, witty sentiments that briefly sum up the action, this story is all about the moral.  This time around, the world's strongest and dumbest barbarian is set against pretty much all the problems facing us today:  corrupt rulers, the arms race, famine, global warming, you name it, it's in here.  While previous "Groo" stories have dealt with the ills of the world before, they've done them in a way that's one step removed from the actual problem which gives them room to insert the funny stuff without making the message seem too blatant (i.e. using sneezing as a stand in for STDs... no, really, it worked; check out the "Groo 25th Anniversary Special" to see this approach done right).  Unfortunately by making these real-world problems a direct part of the story, Evarnier and Aragones wind up hammering home the point that our world is going to perish unless we change our ways on nearly every single page.  The end result is that no matter how many frays Groo gets into, or explosions that cow belches cause, the story winds up being too preachy for its own good.  Recommended for "Groo" completitsts only.

Ghost Talker's Daydream vol. 3

I mentioned how I was less than impressed with the first volume of this series in the second Dark Horse podcast, but there's been a steady uptick in the quality of the series since then.  Of course, if I could only recommend one Dark Horse manga where the lead character talks to ghosts, it'd still be "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service," but a lot of the things that annoyed me about the first volume have been addressed or toned down.  Main character Saiki Misaki's day job as a dominatrix has actually been worked into the plot of several stories now and doesn't exist just as titillating window dressing, and the goofy stuff has been toned down to the point where it doesn't interfere with the creepy stuff... as much.  The stories in this volume find Saiki helping her lesbian friend converse with the ghost of a dead one-night-stand, meeting up with an old man while reminiscing about the past on a hot summer day, and encountering a real-life version of a "ghost taxi" urban legend.  While none of these stories are straightforward in their execution, the perceptive reader will be able to see the twists coming from a mile away.  Fortunately the character details found within each story are well done (see: Saiki's sad tale of her "almost" first time) and add a lot to them.  The series isn't at "must-read" status yet, but now I can at least say that I'll be a little disappointed if Dark Horse ever decides to give this series the axe.

Comic Picks #23 — New Year, New Hopes

January 15, 2009

In which I talk about my (mostly implausible) hopes for the coming year.

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What I’ve been reading: 1/7/08.

January 8, 2009

No podcast this week, but we're all set for the next few.  In the meantime -- reviews!

Runaways:  Dead End Kids

Back when Brian K. Vaughan announced that he was leaving "Runaways," the series that he created along with Adrian Alphona, I remarked to the owner of the comic shop I frequent that the series was pretty much doomed unless they got someone like Joss Whedon to take over.  Shock of all shockers, Whedon was then announced as the next writer, and he then took well over a year to write the six issues in this collection.  As you'd expect from Whedon this volume is chock-full of his trademark witty dialogue and he's got a great handle on all of the Runaways.  The problem is that the story he wants to tell -- the kids getting tossed back a hundred years into the past, where they encounter a world of "Wonders" acting as precursors to the Marvel Universe -- suffers from being "too" dense.  That Whedon, and artist Michael Ryan, are able to make this work as well as they did in four issues is impressive, but there are lots of things that get the short shrift here (Nico's encounters with the Witchbreaker being the prime example).  Had the first two issues not been spent on hijinks with the Kingpin and the Punisher, it probably would've been a stronger story overall.  Yeah, we wouldn't have seen Molly gut-punching Frank Castle, but I don't think it would've mattered in the long run.

The Walking Dead vol. 9:  Here We Remain

I said on the Robert Kirkman podcast a while back that vol. 8 made me start looking forward to the series again, and vol. 9 shows that my faith wasn't misplaced.  Rick and his son Carl do their best to cope with the horrific events of the last volume, and generally do a pretty bad job of it, but things get better once they run into some more familiar faces.   We're also introduced to some new characters who look like they're going to provide the thrust of the plot for the next fifty or so issues:  One of them knows what caused the zombie plague, and he needs to get to Washington D.C. to get in touch with whatever's left of the government to fix things.  Naturally, he can't talk about what caused it because it's CLASSIFIED, but Kirkman does a good job writing around that elephant, positioning the need to get to D.C. as something the characters are doing because it's better than just sitting around.  Good stuff overall, and I hope that Kirkman's promise to get all the issues of this and "Invincible" out on time this year means we'll get vol. 10 that much quicker. Ghost Rider:  Hell Bent & Heaven Bound

Like most superheroes, my interest in Ghost Rider extends only as far as who is writing him.  (The only other "Ghost Rider" collections I have are written by Garth Ennis, if that's any indication.)  I'd been hearing some decent things about this collection, and since Jason Aaron does a great job with "Scalped" and the "Get Mystique" arc of "Wolverine," I figured I'd give it a shot.  What I got for my money was some entertainingly over-the-top action that saw Johnny Blaze pitted against a religious madman in prison, cannibal ghosts, and gun-toting nurses in service of an angel that had a hand in setting Blaze up as the Ghost Rider, and now seeks to overthow heaven itself.  Unlike "Scalped," Aaron isn't trying to say something profound, he's just looking to make sure his readers have a blasphemous good time here and he succeeds.  My biggest complaint with the book is that it's mainly setup for what looks to be a fairly epic story, and based on the sales numbers I've seen for the bood, I'm not sure if he'll have enough time to tell it.  Even so, if you like "Ghost Rider" or Jason Aaron, this volume is worth picking up.