The most interesting news for me that came out of the C2E2 convention was that Carla Speed McNeil was signing up with Dark Horse. This means that DH will now be publishing her long-running series "Finder," first self-published as single issues, then as a webcomic, starting with a new volume "Voices" in February followed by two HC collections of the series thus far. I've got a friend of mine who is a rabid fan of her work and this news was like mana from heaven for him. I've only read the first two volumes of "Finder" and while I probably won't be doing a podcast on it until the HC collections come out, I can say that the first two volumes are dense reads that reward your full attention as much as they demand it.
This isn't news from C2E2, but the same friend was also glad to hear news that Paul Pope has a new book coming out from First Second Publishing later this year called "Battling Boy." Described as a superhero fight epic with the main character battling down hundreds of oncomers, it sounds like something that will work really well coming from an artist like Pope who specializes in action and motion. He's also working on a partial re-draw of his long-unfinished series "THB" and finishing up the series in the process. And on that note...
Heavy Liquid: I'd heard a lot of good things about this mini-series from Pope from a lot of sources over the years and after reading, I can say that they're all true. Set in a near-future metropolis, the story is about a man named S who is hired to find an artist who went missing years ago. The fact that she used to be his ex-girlfriend is a minor complication in light of the fact that he's a wanted man by both the local mob and the government after he stole a large quantity of the title substance. He didn't really do it for cash, because once you boil the substance a certain way and ingest it, the substance provides a high like you wouldn't believe. Reading this book gives a great approximation of that feeling as Pope creates an impressively realized world filled with characters that are interesting and engaging despite/because of their familiarity. He also dishes out some truly kinetic action sequences that almost make you feel like you're reading a movie.
Hellboy vol. 9: The Wild Hunt: Way back when I did my podcast on the "Hellboy" series, one of the criticisms I had was that every major Hellboy story was some variation on someone telling the character that "You're the beast of the apocalypse! You must fulfill your destiny," to which he'd reply with some variation on "Screw you!" and then hit them. Its sister series "B.P.R.D." didn't have that problem and it also had a focus for the ongoing story it was telling, which is why I've always appreciated it more. That said, "The Wild Hunt" not only gives "Hellboy" a focus, but it also puts a new spin on the whole "beast of the apocalypse" business. While Hellboy meets up with the baby he saved in "The Corpse" (and finds out she's grown into a fine woman) the leader of the evil forces that were gathering in the last volume makes her appearance and starts flexing her power. The title character also gets some info on his family history (and finds out that he's King of the Britons!) and finds that the corner he's been boxed into may have a secret passage allowing him to escape. For the first time in perhaps ever, I'm really looking forward to the next volume to see what happens. Well... the volume after the next since "vol. 10" will be another collection of short stories and mini-series.
Kingyo Used Books vol. 1: While I've been aware that all of the titles in the IKKI sub-imprint of Viz's Signature line can be read online from their site, I've been buying them blind since the company has shown itself to have really good taste when it comes to bringing us titles that are meant for an older, more mature crowd. After reading this, I think I'm going to have to start checking out these titles before I buy them. While I wouldn't say that this series about a used manga bookstore and the people who frequent it is outright bad, it's just that it keeps hitting me over the head with something that I already know very well. To that end, a series that essentially screams "HEY! ISN'T MANGA AWESOME! THERE'S A TITLE FOR EVERYONE THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND MAKE IT AWESOME!" for almost two hundred pages isn't really the kind of series that I'd want to recommend to anyone else or invest in a second volume.
Ooku vol. 3: One of my favorite titles last year proves that it hasn't lost a step with this new volume. While Iemitsu and Arikoto are officially a couple now, problems arise when several months go by without any signs that the female shogun is pregnant. This leads Reverend Kasuga to take matters into her own hands and find a new man who will be able to put a bun in that oven. Meanwhile, famine and drought sweep across the land as the populace grows ever more restless and Iemitsu takes steps to prevent a rebelling and set things up for her "coming out" party. This continues to be a great bit of alternate historical fiction both because of the details that mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga provides for both the setting and the slow change that Japanese society is undergoing as a result of the shortage of men. Iemitsu and Arikoto's troubles also provide a wonderfully rich vein of drama as the circumstances that force her to lie with other men are both new and justifiable. This volume does leave me wondering when, or if, we'll ever get back to the characters from the first volume. God knows there's enough potential stories for Yoshinaga to tell about this period and its characters, but I do wonder where those in particular will be going.
Area 10: This is the latest graphic novel from the Vertigo Crime line does little to sway my opinion that the imprint won't have as long and illustrious a life as its parent one. Adam Kamen is a cop tracking down a serial killer known as "Henry the Eighth" after the trail of decapitated corpses he leaves in his wake. After an assault at a psychiatrist's office leaves him with a hole in his head, he starts getting bizarre flashes of potential futures and actions of the people around him. Despite the out-there premise, this story is your run-of-the-mill "cop chases serial killer" procedural where you won't need the main character's special ability to know what's going to happen next. While artist Chris Samnee does a great job with the art, writer Christos Gage's past work as a writer on TV shows like "Law & Order: SVU" seems to work against him here. While he's done great work in the past by grafting procedural-style storytelling to superheroes (check out his "Stormwatch" series for the best example) this story involving real people doesn't have the same spark. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he originally wrote this as a screenplay and when it couldn't get produced he decided to turn it into a graphic novel. Reading it now, I can see why no one bothered to produce it.
Wolverine: Weapon X vol. 1 -- The Adamantium Men: If you've been listening to me or reading these posts, you'll know that I've always got room in my library for a good Wolverine story. These days it's turning out to be that writer Jason Aaron produces nothing but the kind. Here he has the data used by the Weapon X program in order to create Wolverine falling into the hands of a private military contractor outfit by the name of Blackguard. They've used the data to create mercenaries with the title character's abilities and none of his morals (such as they are). Naturally Wolverine takes the fight to them and bad people start dying in entertainingly violent ways. It's got everything you could want in a Wolverine story and unless you want them to be timeless transcendent masterpieces, you'll find what's here to be plenty satisfying. Artist Ron Garney does a great job on the art for the title story, and Adam Kubert does a bang-up job on the two-parter that fills out the collection where we see what a month in the life of a mutant with membership in three team books and his own solo title is like, and then talks about it with Spider-Man in a bar. Good stuff and it bodes well for Aaron and Kubert's "Astonishing Wolverine and Spider-Man" mini-series.
Batman and Robin vol. 1: Batman Reborn: With Bruce Wayne currently lost in time after the events of "Final Crisis," Dick Grayson has taken on the burden of Batman's cowl and recruited Wayne's son Damien as the new Robin. Alfred is still Alfred, in case you were wondering. Having another character take on the mantle of Batman sounds like it's an editorially-mandated recipe for disaster, but in the hands of writer Grant Morrison, it turns out to be a refreshing change that gives some new energy to the traditional bat-storytelling. The first of two stories involves a crazed circus ringleader who orchestrates crimes with his army of freaks when he's not making more of his own, while the second has the return of former (dead) Robin Jason Todd as a take-no-prisoners vigilante whose actions wind up summoning an even worse threat to Gotham. While the stories themselves aren't all that new, it's the telling that makes them both. Morrison wisely doesn't ask us to accept that this is a permanent change, just new actors playing familiar roles, and it's fun to see Dick and Damien struggle with their new roles and with each other. Art-wise, Frank Quitely works magic on the opening arc, giving the villains an appropriate creepiness and making Morrison's pacing for the action scenes seem completely effortless and natural. The thing is that while Quitely effortlessly keeps up with the demands of Morrison's scripts, Philip Tan (who handles the art for the second arc) still manages to keep pace, but you can almost see the exhaustion creeping up on him as he does so in his art.