I read an interesting bit of comics rumermongering earlier this week. While it has been shown that Norman Osborne has some superpowered character at his beck and call to keep the members of his Cabal (Namor, Emma Frost, Dr. Doom, Loki and The Hood) in line, this person’s identity has been one of the best-kept secrets in comics at the moment. (Which is probably because people at Marvel haven’t figured it out yet. But I digress…) Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool thinks has some inside info on the character’s identity, as he reported that at the Big Apple Comic-Con last weekend that the character’s name involves the letters “MM.” This leads Johnston to believe that it’s Miracleman (or Marvelman if you live in England). To be honest, even I’m having a hard time believing this as I type it. The Moore/Gaiman series of comics featuring the character has been the center of a decades-long legal battle that few thought would ever see resolution. Marvel has apparently made some headway with that as they announced at Comic-Con last year that they now have the rights to creator Mick Anglo’s original “Marvelman” comics, and most are believing that resolving the rights to the contested comics will be a matter of “when” not “if” anymore. As far as Miracleman being Osborne’s strongman? That seems to be so obviously BS that Johnston should’ve recognized it, but he seems to believe it for now. All I can say is that if this is the case, then it would be one of the rare, RARE times when one of their “big reveals” actually feels satisfying. The actual truth of the matter will probably bear out sometime in 2010 – and now, reviews!
Berserk vol. 31: Lots of dramatic fighting between Guts’ crew and the demonic Kushan hordes. Their leader even puts in an electrifying (literally, cue rimshot) appearance as he poses a no-brainer question to Guts: “Join me to fight against Griffith.” The action is entertaining as always, but now that we’ve moved into the “fighting” part of this arc, it’s threatening to overwhelm the storytelling. Of course, with Zodd showing up at the end of the volume (and getting his ass handed to him), there’s potential for some interesting parley between Guts and one of his nemesis’ subordinates. I’m looking forward to seeing how, or if that plays out in the next volume.
Captain America -- The Man With No Face: Or, volume nine in Ed Brubaker’s run for those of you keeping track at home. Now that Bucky has saved America from the Red Skull’s plan and started to settle into the role of being the new Captain America it’s time to start throwing some old and new threats at him. The old comes in the form of Batroc the Leaper, who despite his goofy appearance Brubaker makes into a credible threat, and the new comes in the form of the title character, a legendary spy who can travel through shadows. Overall, it’s another solid arc in the writer’s run, though I hope that he doesn’t keep playing the “an old threat from Bucky’s past comes back to haunt him” card for the character’s future adventures. It’s more interesting to see him adapt to his place in the current Marvel Universe than in its past.
Fables vol. 12 – The Dark Ages: With Gepetto deposed from his position as the Adversary, everything should be rainbows and sunshine for the cast of this book, right? Of course not, as one of the evil powers, known only as Mr. Dark, sealed away by Gepetto during his reign is turned loose and singlehandedly levels Fabletown. With everyone retreating to the Farm in the wake of Mr. Dark’s attack, there’s a feeling that things are returning to the series’ original status quo, but so many factors have changed since then that it winds up feeling fresh nonetheless. Though regular artist Mark Buckingham handles things with his usual style and competency, the real artistic highlight of this volume is Mike Allred’s return as guest artist for the opening issue. You wouldn’t think that his off-kilter style would work in a book that showcases the virtues of traditional storytelling, but it does. Beautifully. Those of you worried that the series had nowhere to go after the end of the last volume will find their fears happily allayed here.
Neon Genesis Evangelion – The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol. 2: Yup, still mortgaging my self-respect. That said, I’m starting to see what editor/English adapter Carl Horn said about the appeal of seeing these characters in a traditional high-school setting. While tropes such as mistaken sexual orientation, class trips, waking in on girls in their underwear are out in full-force here, there’s something engaging about seeing the established Evangelion cast perpetrate them as opposed to characters I know nothing about. Then again, I’m also certain that the witty self-aware nature of Horn’s adaptation also contributes greatly to my enjoyment. Anyway, the highlights of this volume include Kaworu’s introduction to the cast, and Gendo’s revelation that NERV’s emergency generators are powered by exercise bikes. Not recommended to the casual manga reader, but if you like Evangelion you might find this unexpectedly enjoyable.
The Walking Dead vol. 10 – Here We Remain: The most enjoyable thing about this volume isn’t something that happens directly on the page, but in seeing how writer Robert Kirkman subverts the standard zombie/horror movie conventions. From the unexpected direction of the relationship between Rick and Abraham (who appears to be your standard angry military man), to the amount of deaths in the main cast, and how he sets up a nice moment between two characters that makes you go “Oh, she’s going to die,” and then doesn’t kill her off – this the work of a man who really knows what he’s doing. Yes, some of the traps he sets up are bound to go off eventually, but it’s clear that he realizes the virtue of letting the reader have time to calm down and forget about them before setting them off. Though Kirkman has said that the cast will eventually reach a real pocket of civilization, even the promise of a respite still sounds fraught with disturbing storytelling potential after reading this volume.
Slam Dunk vol. 5: All through this volume I couldn’t stop thinking about what an idiot the main character, hoodlum turned basketball player Sakuragi Hanamichi, was. I’d find him completely unlikeable if he didn’t actually demonstrate the capacity to learn from his mistakes over the course of this volume. Then there’s the “Shonen Jump” style pacing, which means that the game started in the last volume still hasn’t finished by the end of this one and most of the plot points and beats are inherently predictable because that’s how they play out in stories like this. I was so busy bitching about what annoyed me in my head while reading this, that before I knew it the story was over and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. It’s a credit to mangaka Takehikio Inoue’s skill as a storyteller that I’m still interested in this series despite its many flaws, but it has yet to become the great series that everyone I know says it is.
Secret Six – Unhinged: I’d heard nothing but good things about this series from writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott, so picking up this volume was a no-brainer. After reading it, I’m not as enthusiastic about it as everyone else, but this villain-focused series does have its charms. The Six, made up of Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, and Bane (and yes, I realize that’s only five villains, but the sixth one joins halfway through) are given a job by a mystery client to break an ex-superhero/ex-FBI agent out of prison and get her to give up the card she stole from a legendarily fearsome and evil crime boss known only as Junior. Junior also wants it back too, and he puts out a bounty on the heads of the members of the Secret Six. Simone is a very witty writer and its clear she’s having a lot of fun writing characters whose moral compasses usually point south, and that fun is infectious for the most part. The problem is that while she creates a very clever McGuffin, the action overwhelms the story by the end and we’re left wondering “What was the point of all this?” Simone also sets herself up for failure with Junior, who is said to be a crime boss so fearsome that he gives the freaks in Gotham nightmares, but comes off as a B (or even C) list Batman villain. When Deadshot has a chance to do him in and is warned off by another character that Junior would kill them all, it’s not believable at all. Still, with the introductory arc over, and the series sales’ at a relatively consistent level, I’m hoping that we get a second arc that’s a bit more low-key and does more interesting things with its impressive cast.
No burning comics news to report today. I did record new podcasts this weekend, so you can look forward to hearing my next crossovercast with the “No Podcast For Old Men” crew next week on a subject near and dear to all of our hearts – “Star Wars.” Two weeks from then I’m going to make good on a promise from an earlier column with my thoughts on the late Drew Hayes’ “Poison Elves.” After that? Well, thanks to RightStuf.com’s Viz sale, I finally picked up the rest of Naoki Urasawa’s “Monster” (after reading it years ago in scanlated form). So a podcast on that and “20th Century Boys” might be in the offing. Though what I’d really like to do is get the “NPFOM” crew to read “Pluto” since the result of trying to write a sci-fi manga with hard sci-fi elements, but no actual hard science would make for interesting discussion. Anyways, on with the reviews:
DMZ vol. 6: War Powers: Easily one of the strongest volumes in writer Brian Wood and (primary) artist Riccardo Burchielli’s series. Back in the city after a vacation following Parco Delgado’s election as the governor of the DMZ, reporter Matty Roth finds himself in the thick of things again. In order to make good on all of his promises, Parco needs money and Matty’s Triad buddy Wilson is supposedly sitting on a store of gold left unsiezed since the start of the war. While following up on that is one thing, Matty’s even less sure about the man he helped bring to power after he winds up being the delivery boy for Parco’s “insurance policy.” Fascinating in the way it shows Parco’s political maneuvering and strategizing, this volume also sets the stage for what is most likely going to be Matty’s downfall. I think it’ll be very entertaining to watch this man, who didn’t realize until it was too late that he was being played, try to become a player himself.
Gunsmith Cats: Burst vol. 4: It’s hard for any series to keep its momentum going after more than a year between volumes, especially if they didn’t have much to begin with. While the gunfights and gun otaku trappings that have been this series stock-in-trade for the longest time remain compelling, little else does in this volume. After I read the first volume, I wondered why mangaka Kenichi Sonoda decided to revive his signature series since it didn’t seem like he had anything new to say about the characters or stories to tell. The two volumes that followed were more entertaining, but that “lack of ideas” issue rears its head again with this volume as Sonoda brings back Goldie. She was the “big bad” of the first series and her story was pretty much done. Now she’s back, and I might’ve been more amenable to her return if Sonoda didn’t restore her to status quo through an illogical contrivance that makes heroine Rally Vincent look like an idiot. This volume isn’t enough to make me stop reading the series entirely, but I won’t be chomping at the bit for the next volume.
Eden: It’s an Endless World vol. 12: This, on the other hand, I wish Dark Horse would publish more regularly. A fantastic sci-fi action series with ideas as impressive as its gunfights, it’s a series that has me eagerly anticipating the release of each new volume. The action showpiece here is Elijah and Alethia’s showdown with one of Propater’s android assassins, the meat of this volume comes from the bonding between Maya and Hanna. While Hanna is still bristling at being a forced guest at one of Propater’s safehouses, Maya takes the time to teach her about the ways of the world by delving into the memory of the colloid virus (still engulfing people around the world) and showing her the truth being her sister Gina’s ill-fated love affair and drug addiction. I realize that my summation of the events of this volume probably makes things more confusing, and that just means that it’s not a good jumping on point. If you haven’t read it, start from the beginning – you’ll be glad you did.
Dan Dare Omibus: Collecting the miniseries originally published by the now defunct Virgin Comics. That said, let me say now that it was worth collecting, if only for the fact that it’s one of the RARE instances where you’ll see writer Garth Ennis actually show respect to an iconic comic character (to the Brits, anyway). The story is fairly standard issue: An old threat is coming from beyond the solar system and it’s carrying a black hole along with it. Retired for many years, legendary war hero and pilot Dan Dare is called back into action to save us all. Except that not all is what it seems and Dare’s return may just turn out to be his last hurrah. Ennis writes in his introduction about the appeal of Dare’s idealism, and he pulls off the difficult task of making it a quality to be proud of instead of descending into sentimental claptrap. He’s also helped immensely by the art of Gary Erskine, who makes the retro-sci-fi look of the comic seem believable and appealing.
Cable vol. 2: Waiting for the End of the World: In which Scott Summers broods about letting the title character go at the end of “Messiah Complex,” Bishop unsuccessfully tracks him through time, and then he takes a few years off to raise Hope before having to pick up his guns to defend her and their settlement from humanoid cockroaches. If you’re like me, then the main reason you’re reading this is because it’s directly following up on one of the key threads from the “X-men’s” last, excellent, crossover. It’s not bad, but as with a lot of “X-Men” comics these days, it probably won’t have much appeal to people who aren’t well versed in its continuity or have an interest in where the franchise is going. Still, writer Duane Swierczyinski has a good handle on the characters, and it’s a rare writer that can make Cyclops’ brooding actually seem interesting.
Frankenstein’s Womb: Warren Ellis has now done three “graphic novellas” for Avatar, and this is easily the least of them. His first one, “Crecy,” was an excellent history lesson about a battle that helped shape modern warfare, and his second, “Aetheric Mechanics,” was a fun riff on Sherlock Holmes that also had the funniest use of profanity I’ve seen in an Ellis book. (And if you’re familiar with his penchant for profanity, you’ll know that’s saying something.) This… has Frankenstein’s Monster nattering on about the future to Mary Shelley in a castle before she writes her signature work. Less a story than Ellis banging on about an idea he had for 48 pages, it has some nice art by Marek Oleksicki but not much else.