Back to the old format for this week. Three reviews below the break...
X-Men: Legacy vol. 2 -- Sins of the Father
After the end of the "Messiah Complex" crossover, the "adjectiveless" X-Men title mutated into a Professor X solo book where he travels the world meeting with old friends and enemies in order to regain the memories he lost after being shot in the head. If your eyes glazed over while reading that last sentence, then rest assured, this is not the book for you. However, people who have been following the saga of the X-Men for years (like myself) will find most of this volume pretty entertaining. The first two-thirds of it continue the main story of Xavier's travels as he comes mind-to-mind with Mr. Sinister's plans to take over his body, and tries to make peace with Cyclops, but winds up being dragged through the darkest recesses of his past by Emma Frost instead. Mike Carey wrote the stories here, and as I said in the "continuity" podcast about one of his earlier volumes "Supernovas," he does a good job of writing a smarter version of the "people hitting each other while philosophising" style that was the driving force of the series' stories in the 80's and 90's. That said, even the most hardcore X-fan will probably have trouble recalling some of the continuity references Carey digs up, but they're not absolutely necessary to the understanding of the core story, and there are even footnotes by the writer at the end of the volume. As for the art, with the exception of the flashback scenes, it's good enough, but nothing spectacular courtesy of Scot Eaton and Phil Briones.
The last 1/3 of the book, however, has fallen victim to one of Marvel's most annoying practices in recent months: padding out the length of a trade paperback with reprints. In all honesty, I'd rather have paid $11 for these four issues instead of the $15 for these two extra ones. The first one "Odd Man Out" was a collection of two inventory stories illustrated by classic X-Men artist Dave Cockrum. While his art in these stories is nice, the stories are utterly forgettable. The other one, "The Unlikely Saga of Xavier, Magneto, and Stan" has Stan Lee being confronted by Xavier and Magneto and taken on a tour of some of the most memorable moments in X-history. It's amusing in parts and has some nice art, but not something you'll want to bother re-reading.
Emma vol. 8
I can't say whether this series is the "Best Maid Manga Ever!" because I really don't read any other "maid-related" titles. (Well, none that you'll find on the shelves of your local bookstore anyway...) Even so, this is still a fantastic series that nails the subtle social interaction of the Victorian era and the drama that ensues when two people pursue a romance that defies the time's class structure. If you need any more encouragement, know that Alan Moore shows up in volume six to kidnap the title character. That being said, the main story wrapped up well (if a little quickly) in the last volume and this one is the first of three that will explore the world of the series' supporting cast in greater detail. In this volume we finally get to see the late husband of Emma's mistress, Kelly Stownar, share a memorable trip to the Great Exhibition, Elanor Campbell receive what looks to be a happy ending, and other amusing and interesting shorts that reveal what the cast has been up to since the end of the series. While we didn't get the two stories I wanted to see in this volume (that'd be ones showing what butler Hans, he of the sour disposition and Wolverine sideburns, is up to; along with whatever happened to William and Emma), these are all up to the series' high standards. Obviously not a good starting point, but fans of the series won't be disappointed.
The Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: The Five Nightmares
The newest Iron Man series, which debuted just as the movie came out last year, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Salvador Larroca, finally arrives in softcover. It's not bad, but I'm starting to lose hope that I'll ever read an Iron Man story that makes me stop wishing that Warren Ellis wrote more than six issues with the character. This story features Tony Stark facing off with the terrorist son of Obadiah Stane, Ezekiel. Naturally he's out for revenge against Tony for killing his dad all these years ago, and he's managed to really get under the man's skin by repurposing old Iron Man tech to turn humans into living bombs. As the series was designed to appeal to people who have seen the movie, the story is pretty straightforward and has some callbacks to elements of the movie (like Obadiah), but isn't worse off for it. Fraction writes a good, smart Tony Stark along with plenty of witty dialogue, and a story that unfolds well over the course of the seven issues here (six for the main, and one featuring an entertaining team-up with Spider-Man). That said, the story doesn't break any new ground with the character (not that it has to) and Ezekiel comes across as more insuffurably annoying than actually threatening. Larroca's art is on good form here with his eye for detail and ability to clearly convey the story, though the realism and photo-referencing he brings to the characters can be distracting at times. Overall, it's worth a look if you like Iron Man, or if you enjoyed the movie and are looking for a comic that's along the same lines.
I had heard two things about Warren Ellis' newest series prior to reading it. The first was that it felt VERY MUCH like his defining series "Transmetropolitan." The second was that it didn't really start to differentiate itself and become interesting in its own right until issue eight, the last one collected in this volume. Now that I've read through it I can say that one of these is right.
And now that you've clicked on the link to read the rest of my review, let me say right off that the series really doesn't feel much like "Transmet" at all. Yes, it has a violently anti-social hero in John Reinheardt, the titular Doktor, who has come back from a long absence to terrorize his old stomping grounds of the city of Havenside, lots of talk about weird and compelling sci-fi concepts, and even a "filthy assistant" in the form of the ex-black ops woman who serves as Reinhardt's nurse/bodyguard. It all looks the same on the surface, but once you start reading you'll see that things are quite different in the "Doktor's" world.
For starters, Reinhardt hasn't come back to bring the truth to the masses or due to some long-overdue publishing commitments. Instead, he's reinvented himself as the cartoonish mad scientist "Doktor Sleepless" whose only goal is to spread his subversive ideas to the city populace by ranting about them over the airwaves and staging public stunts. These include shocking a heart attack victim back to life, shutting the city's power grid down for a brief period, and distributing facemasks that mask the electronic ID signals that each person has. Why is he doing this? The reason he gives in the beginning is because the future sucks. The past promised us jetpacks and flying cars, and if the best we can do for ourselves is bluetooth then it's time to bring it all crashing down.
From there we get a long and leisurely tour of the city of Havenside and introductions to the book's supporting cast. And when I say "long and leisurely" I mean that most of what happens next pretty much meanders along without any real urgency, where Ellis dishes out more interesting sci-fi concepts, sets up ideas and plot points to be explored later, all without a real sense of urgency or drama. To be honest, most of the middle section of this volume veers dangerously close to boredom because a lot of it is spent having the cast angst about their histories with John before he became the Doktor, and the Doktor jabbering on about his cryptic plans to bring about the end of the world and how the future sucks. Part of me wants to say that this will all be far more interesting to people who haven't read any of Ellis' work before, but even then I think their patience will be tried despite the occasional bit of ultraviolence and witty dialogue to liven things up.
Speaking of the dialogue, even I have to admit that a lot of what's here feels like stock "Warren Ellis Dialogue." If you've read any of his work before, then a lot of what you read here will have a very familiar ring to it. Lines like, "Don't 'My-lad' me. I'm six weeks younger than you, you crooked-ass bastard," and "When I was a kid, I'd go to the cemetery, the big Havenside necropolis, and lay my ear on my parents grave," sound like they could've come from any of his other works, and most of what's here isn't even as witty as that. The familiarity of the dialogue here breeds contempt, is what I'm saying.
While I'm on the subject of the book's fault (can't interrupt a good roll here), let's talk about the art. Based on what I've seen here, Ivan Rodriguez is a competent artist... and not much more. He's got enough skill to tell the story well enough, but there's not a lot of action or pizzazz to really bring things to life. Granted, he's having to draw just talking heads for a lot of the story, and not everyone can be Steve Dillon ("Preacher") or Darick Robertson ("Transmetropolitan," and yes, he's sorely missed here) who have a particular knack for making those kinds of scenes visually interesting. I'm under the impression that this is his first major comics work, and in that regard, it's a good first start, but for the sake of the series I hope he starts learning new tricks fast.
That's because for all that I've been harping on for the last few paragraphs, the series does get much more interesting in the final issue. After the Doktor meets up with Sing and starts hashing out the plot with her, we find out just what his game is. To put it in mildly spoilery terms, he's planning to bring about the end of the world in literal, not metaphorical, terms. The actual "Why?" of his plans is actually quite ingenious (cthulu fans should get a kick out of it) and best of all, it causes the reader to go back and re-examine everything that's happened in this volume in a new light. It's a great accomplishment on Ellis' part, though I wish he'd gotten to the point just a little quicker.
So if you're a fan of Ellis' work this is worth picking up. Even with the cover gallery and "wiki" excerpts in the back, the book is still farily pricey at $27, but you can get it for less at most online retailers. If you've never read any of his work before, I'd still say that "Transmet" is a better introduction to his work and worldview. Though it has its faults, I'm still very interested in seeing where "Doktor Sleepless" goes from here. Hopefully it will be to some place that has better pacing and improved art, but I'm willing to give it a chance.