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.