This was another title I’d heard lots of good things about and after I found it for 50% off at Comic-Con, I figured I’d give it a shot. The premise involves legendary spymaster Nick Fury forming and training a team of teenage superheroes to fight against the forces of the terrorist organization known as H.Y.D.R.A., who are revealed to have been secretly in control of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since Fury was a part of it. What I like about this volume is the fact that writer Jonathan Hickman does a good job establishing the scale of the threat and convincing the reader that it’s a big deal. He’s also done his research on the history of these two organizations, shown off in the supplemental pages after the first issue, and he and artist Stefano Casselli definitely know how to stage exciting action scenes. However, my enjoyment is hamstrung by the fact that the reveal about H.Y.D.R.A.’s takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t feel genuine -- it’s just something we’re told rather than shown, and these kinds of reveals are so old hat in comics that it’s going to take more than that to get me to care. The cast itself isn’t all that interesting either as most of the title characters come of as generic angsty teenagers, and while Fury’s badass spy schtick works well when he’s a supporting character in other people’s comics when he doesn’t have to show any depth as a character, it turns into more of a liability when he’s the main attraction. Still, enough works here to make me interested in checking out the second volume... assuming I can find it for a similar discount.
If you’ll recall, I was looking forward to this series just to see how artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon interpreted this particular time in the “B.P.R.D.” universe. I don’t know if it was the strength of the material that they had to work with, but I was underwhelmed here. That’s probably my own fault in some regards since I was expecting the art to pop with the energy that’s on display in their other works like “The Umbrella Academy” and “Sugarshock,” but writers Mike Mignola and Josh Dysart aren’t really telling an energetic story here. What we get is a reasonably creepy ghost and vampire story as B.P.R.D. founder Trevor Bruttenholm sends four ex-military men to investigate a series of mass mutilations occurring throughout Europe. It has its moments, but the story is more of a slow burn that eventually sputters out rather than bursting into flame. Much like its predecessor, “1946,” this story had me wishing that they’d done a proper Mignola/Arcudi/Davis “B.P.R.D.” tale instead.
These are the last two volumes of the series before it re-launched as just plain “Punisher” with Rick Remender taking over full writing duties from Matt Fraction. I know that sounds like a particularly pointless bit of info, but that’s how this series has felt to me. Aside from some clever bits like the Stilt-Man funeral and “World War Hulk” crossover issues, as well as the last issue of the series (collected in vol. 5), “War Journal” never really found its footing as the middle ground between Garth Ennis’ funny (in “Marvel Knights”) and serious (in “MAX”) takes on the character that it so wanted to be. The funny was never quite funny enough and the serious parts were more dull than anything else. As it is, the series as a whole is something that I’d recommend to fans of the character rather than the general public at large.
You wouldn’t think that a Wolverine story written by Warren Ellis with art by Lenil Yu from the late 90’s would merit a hardcover edition, but here it is anyway. Less a commentary on the story itself than on how the creators’ status has risen at the company over the past decade, this hardcover is grossly overpriced at $20 for four issues of content. The story involves Wolverine (during the time he was without his adamantium skeleton) being hunted by MacLeish, a villainous killer our hero thought he had killed years ago. Had I read this back when it came out, I probably would’ve thought it was an above-average story involving the title character, but I’ve since been spoiled by Ellis and Yu’s later and better works, not to mention the work of other writers (Jason Aaron, Greg Rucka, etc.) who have written the character themselves. Still, it gets some points for the clever title. If nothing else it makes me wish for Ellis and Yu to team up again to do a follow-up called “I’m Getting Better.”
Continuing with tonight’s theme is the latest from the creators of “Death Note.” While that series was entertaining for a while, it jumped the shark with the death of its co-protagonist halfway through and then crashed and burned spectacularly at the end. I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of reading another manga from writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, but the premise of their new series “Bakuman” (two kids set out to become manga creators) was so substantially different that I figured I’d give it a shot.
While this series is different, it shares enough of its predecessor’s dense, wordy style that if you liked it there and have an interest in creating manga and seeing how it is created, then you’ll probably like this too. A healthy appreciation (or tolerance of) shonen manga cliches is also recommended as our heroes talk at length about their manly passions, and romance blossoms (kinda) for one of the leads. That stuff bored me to tears, but at the same time it’s still interesting to see the Shonen Jump formula applied to something that is so far outside its usual purview. For that alone, I’ll keep reading it but at this point I’m more interested in the characters’ manga than the characters themselves.
The Best/Worst Manga of the Year” panel needs to be longer. One hour is not enough time to hear such great speakers as Jason Thompson, Christopher Butcher, and Shaenon Garrity talk about what rocked and what did not in the world of manga over the last year.
The only thing more disappointing than not getting into the Dark Horse panel this year was hearing that they didn’t have any new manga news to announce. Apparently [director of Asian licensing] Michael Gombos only talked about their Clamp reissues and not much else. I only have Comic Book Resources’ article to go off of, so if additional announcements were made please let me know.
That said, the announcement that Yen Press will be publishing Kaoru Mori’s latest series “Otoyome Gatari” makes up for the aforementioned disappointment. Yen publishes a lot of stuff I don’t read, one title that I absolutely love (“Yotsuba&!”) and “Sundome.” Even if it doesn’t live up to its hype, the staff at Yen have my undying gratitude for bringing it over here so I can experience it for myself.
This year’s Comic-Con was a more manageable beast than last year’s. I don’t know if it was the absence of the “Twi-hards” or just better management on the part of the con staff, but the crowds were less beastly than they were last year. In addition to seeing panels with great and legendary creators like Moto Hagio, Neal Adams, Brian Michael Bendis and Sean Phillips, my zeal to get to each panel with enough time also led me to hear creators like Keith Knight, Kurt Busiek, Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba talk about their work as well. Then there were the three panels I attended where Jason Thompson (author of “Manga: The Complete Guide” and “King of RPGs”) was a feature or main speaker and those were very entertaining as well.
Still, the main reason I go each year is for the comics. Even though I’ve heard lots of people gripe about how comics are getting crowded out of Comic-Con by Hollywood (which is basically true), it’s still the best place around to find good deals on lots of graphic novels. While I plan to talk about all of these eventually, here’s the full list of what I got at the con (in the order I pulled them out of my bag):
Intersections: Sean Phillips & Duncan Fegredo My Space Dark Horse Presents vol. 3 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic vols. 1-4, & 6-8 Guardians of the Galaxy vols. 2-3 Immortal Weapons Dark Avengers vol. 1: Assemble Grendel Tales: Homecoming, The Devil in Our Midst, & The Devil May Care American Splendor: Another Dollar Nova vols. 3-4 Batman: Detective & Death and the City (Because I really can’t go to this con without buying a Batman comic...) The Programme vols. 1-2 Fear Agent vol. 1 War of Kings: Road to War of Kings The Question: The Five Books of Blood Thor vols. 2-3 Simon Dark vol. 3: The Game of Life X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. -- No Time to Breathe A Drunken Dream & Other Stories Luna Park Wolverine: Not Dead Yet (... or a Wolverine one either.) Ultimate Comics: Wolverine vs. Hulk Girl Genius vol. 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Sandman Mystery Theatre vol. 8: The Blackhawk & The Return of the Scarlet Ghost King of RPGs Siege (the collection of Marvel’s latest crossover, in case you thought it was some other “Siege”) Incredible Hercules: Assault on New Olympus New Avengers: Secret Invasion Books 1 & 2 Hawaiian Dick vol. 2: The Last Resort Counter X vol. 3: X-Man But I Like It Punisher: Frank Castle -- Six Hours to Kill Punisher War Journal vols. 4-5 Heart of Empire, or The Legacy of Luther Arkwright Captain America: Reborn (or, vol. 11 in Ed Brubaker’s run for those of you still counting) Bakuman vol. 1 Peepo Chhoo vol. 1 Indiana Jones Omnibus vol. 1: The Further Adventures Concrete vols. 6-7 Secret Warriors vol. 1: Nick Fury -- Agent of Nothing Iron Man: Execute Program Star Wars: Twilight & The Stark Hyperspace War (I’m fairly certain that the former title doesn’t involve vampires...) Biomega vol. 3 Usagi Yojimbo vol. 24: Return of the Black Soul (plus issues #128 and 129) Midnight Nation Wasteland vol. 4: Dog Tribe Penny Arcade vol. 6: The Halls Below Runaways: Rock Zombies A Distant Neighborhood vol. 2 Maxwell Strangewell Green Lantern: Rebirth, No Fear and Blackest Night (the latter of which I’ll be talking about in the podcast this week, so stay tuned...)
While the first volume of “Wolverine Weapon X” was pretty much everything you could want, or expect, from a Wolverine story writer Jason Aaron takes a different approach with this second volume. “Insane in the Brain” begins with Logan in an insane asylum and not being able to remember how he got there, who he used to be, or even what his name is. Now we all know that he’ll eventually remember, pop his claws and unleash his berserker rage on the guilty parties, but the real fun of the story comes in how Aaron slowly escalates the weirdness of the setting, and showing how the title character is helpless to do anything about it before that happens. He also creates a promising new villain in Dr. Rot due to the fact that he specializes in messing with the one aspect of Wolverine that’s always been a bit scrambled over the years: his brain. The volume concludes with an interesting one-off as Wolverine gets a new girlfriend and the audience hopes that she doesn’t wind up dead like ALL (well, there was that girl from Greg Rucka’s run...) the rest. You are getting less pages for your money in this volume, but it’s a more satisfying experience.
This is the next-to-last volume of the series and it represents a satisfying build to the finale. Cade and company wind up taking a very lucrative job that sends them to the planet Wayland -- the site of his father’s sabotaged efforts to use the Yuuzhan Vong’s terraforming abilities for good. That’s only part of the story as writer John Ostrander juggles this thread with others involving Emperor Roan Fel’s Imperials engaging in peace talks with the Jedi, the Sith’s plans to interrupt those talks (as well as other plans to find out what has happened to Darth Krayt), and Nyna Calixte’s efforts to spin all of this in a way that benefits her. You’d think that having so many threads, characters and agendas to consider would lead to a jumbled mess of a storyline, but Ostrander navigates it all with ease and artists Jan Duursema and Dave Ross make it all look good. It also highlights how interesting the supporting cast has become as their struggles are just as interesting as Cade’s. Overall, it’s still the comic to read if you’re looking for some good “Star Wars” storytelling.