Comic Picks By The Glick
Conan vol. 10:  Iron Shadows in the Moon

Conan vol. 10: Iron Shadows in the Moon

May 13, 2011

This volume represents a couple endings as it collects the last four issues of the “Conan the Cimmerian” ongoing series and writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello’s final story about the title character’s adventures at this time in his life.  As “Conan” stories go, it’s pretty by-the-numbers as the barbarian’s escape with the beautiful Olivia leads them to an island filled with nasty wildlife, pirates, and the cursed remnants of a god’s vengeance.  Much fighting ensues, and while the setup may feel familiar, Truman and Giorello don’t phone it in and invest this romp with the same zest and excitement that has characterized their run on this series.  They’ll be tackling “King Conan” in a mini-series next and I’ll be looking to pick that up once it hits the trade format.

Also collected in this volume are two connected stories written and illustrated by Darick Robertson.  “Conan and the Mad King of Gaul” and “The Weight of the Crown” aren’t adapting any stories by Robert E. Howard, but they do rehash a theme that has been brought up from time to time in the ongoing series:  that for all of his ability, Conan isn’t meant to be a leader of men yet.  This leads us to some fairly predictable stories showing how the man comes to rule the land of Gaul and nearly destroy it under his rule.  Robertson shows himself to be a competent writer here, but that’s not enough to make these tales interesting.  His art proves a better fit for this character, as his years spent depicting the ultraviolent imaginings of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis has made him a natural at realizing the brutality of Conan’s world.  That said, they’re not awful stories and no reason for anyone who has been following the series to skip picking up this volume.

Biomega vol. 6

Biomega vol. 6

May 12, 2011

This volume begins with a very pleasant surprise:  two full-color cast recap pages that introduce you to the main characters and elements of the story and their place in it.  While Zoichi and Fuyu need no introduction at this point, the other parts were very welcome in a series where clarity isn’t its strongest suit.  Unfortunately, that’s this concluding volume’s biggest detriment as a lot of what goes on is just plain confusing, if not impossible to understand.  That being said, there are still plenty of cool action sequences rendered in mangaka Tsutomu Nihei’s typically spectacular art to appreciate along with the fact that the series didn’t descend into incoherence before this volume.

Things start out with tense zombie movie pastiche as a family on the Recreator finds out that the N5S virus that caused the drone epidemic on Earth is still lurking around.  Then we find out what happened to the Grizzly sniper Kozlov and his doctor friend after the events of vol. 4, and he gets clued into his role in the final conflict.  There’s another chapter involving two of Niarudi’s agents that doesn’t really make much sense beyond revealing Eon Green’s whereabouts, but things kick into high gear for the final three chapters as Zoichi, Fuyu and Funipero begin their assault on the DRF’s headquarters.  Zoichi’s infiltration-by-motorcycle and Funipero’s duel with Niarudi are both exciting sequences that showcase the series’ strongest aspect:  creating stylish over-the-top action sequences.

To get to these sequences, you’ll have to put up with little issues like wondering about the time difference between Kozlov’s arrival on the Recreator and how he catches up to the “present day,” and where the “human” characters in the third chapter came from.  While I can force myself to not think too hard about these things, it’s a lost cause when I’m thrown up against the massive amounts of exposition and nonsensical revelation that make up the final chapter.  Though the general idea of what’s happening can be gleaned, so many plot developments and action sequences are crammed together here that it can’t help but fall flat.

Even with the weak climax, I still enjoyed the series.  My expectations were very low going into it, and I was surprised when they were exceeded.  Though the series succeeded mainly in presenting an example of how to properly do “style over substance” -- provide enough plot and context to make the action scenes matter -- I was most surprised by how it showed that Nihei had grown as a storyteller from his work on “Blame!”  Granted, he still has a long way to go before the quality of his writing matches his art but I can believe that such a thing is actually possible now.  It’s a mixed bag, but I do recommend this series and am looking forward to seeing whatever Nihei does next.

I appreciated this.

I appreciated this.

May 10, 2011

The latest volume of “Twin Spica” arrived in the mail last week.  This volume continues on in much the same manner as the previous ones, so I really don’t have anything new to say about its contents.  What is interesting about vol. 7 is its appearance:  this is a much thicker volume than usual.  It’s not unusual for a series to have an extra-sized volume from time to time (see also vols. 9 of “Black Lagoon” and “MPD-Psycho”) so I didn’t think too much of it.  Not until I got to the end, that is.

It turns out that this isn’t just a larger-than-usual volume, it’s two-two-TWO volumes in one!  Apparently the Japanese editions of volumes 7 & 8 didn’t have the usual side-story about Asumi’s childhood to pad out the page count -- no great loss if you ask me.  That said, combining the volumes and giving more chapters of the story for the same price is an awesome deal and I’d like to commend whoever it is at Vertical for handling it this way.

Can these people do no wrong!?

Invincible vol. 14:  The Viltrumite War

Invincible vol. 14: The Viltrumite War

May 7, 2011

Oh man!   “The Viltrumite War!”  I remember that sitcom!  BEST!  COMEDY!  EVER!  Even if it was moved around for fourteen different timeslots in the three months during the summer of 1987 that it was on.

Alright, so while the naming trend behind the series' collected editions is effectively broken with this volume, it still delivers one of its most satisfying efforts to date.

Building on plot threads that have been around since “Invincible’s” earliest days, the conflict that has been brewing between the decimated Viltrumite Empire and the Galactic Coalition finally blows up.  Leading the charge for the good of the galaxy is Mark, his brother Oliver, and their dad Nolan, with Allen the Alien and Tech Jacket bringing their own formidable skills, and the combined might of the entire Coalition.  Against them are nearly fifty of the deadliest and most powerful beings the galaxy has ever seen.

While the galaxy survives, and writer Robert Kirkman leaves himself with plenty of material for future volumes, I like the way that “Evil” managed to outsmart “Good” in the end.  Also great is the two-pronged bit of dramatic irony that Kirkman hits you with in the final issue.  However, it’s the epically brutal fights between the two sides that’s the real main attraction here.  Mark’s rematch against Conquest.  The showdown on the Coalition’s home planet.  The catastrophe at the Viltrumite homeworld.  All of these are spectacular action sequences that put what’s seen in most other superhero comics to shame.  Yes, the pace does flag while Mark regenerates after the Conquest fight, and I’m kinda disappointed to see that Viltrumites effectively have “Wolverine” levels of invulnerability.  You wouldn’t think that the “gut punches” seen here would be survivable, but apparently they were -- with a little first aid.

Artist Ryan Ottley is also more than up to the task of depicting the intergalactic carnage seen here.  The fights in space have a real sense of scale to them, seen best when a ship descends upon our heroes in combat in the second chapter.  Then there’s the series of four double-page spreads in the fifth chapter, which depict something I can’t tell you about, but were definitely worth the havoc they played with the series’ schedule while it was being serialized.

Overall, this volume has all the strengths of the previous ones, only amped up to ridiculous levels.  While there may be a lot of Marvel and DC superhero titles that I like, none really capture the thrill and “What’s going to happen next?” anxiety like this one does.  Still one of the most purely entertaining titles on the market right now.

Comic Picks #80:  Thor

Comic Picks #80: Thor

May 4, 2011

It's that time again!  My thoughts on Simonson's definitive run, plus a few words on Straczynski, Ellis and Ennis' contributions.

Lychee Light Club

Lychee Light Club

May 3, 2011

I was telling a friend over the weekend how Vertical’s publishing efforts have reached the point where Dark Horse’s manga used to be for me.  In short, they’ve produced such consistently interesting and entertaining works that I’m willing to pick up something from them by an author or a title that I might not be immediately familiar with just based on the fact that they’re publishing it.  (To be fair, Dark Horse doesn’t publish much new stuff these days, but that’s the facts.)  This goodwill is what led me to “Lychee Light Club” by Usamaru Furuya.  Furuya has something of a small cult following over here after his series “Short Cuts” was published in Viz’s late, great anthology magazine “Pulp.”  Some people swear by his twisted, surreal, schoolgirl-centric style, while I looked at “Short Cuts” and thought, “It’s not bad, but it’s no ‘Heartbroken Angels’ either.*”  Still, this latest collection of his work is an enjoyably surreal phantasmagoria of adolescent fears and anxieties -- as long as you’re not easily offended and have a strong stomach.

The titular “Light Club” is a gathering of nine middle-school students who have created their own society in a run-down industrial site outside of town.  When they’re not violently and/or lethally punishing interlopers for intruding on their ground, they’re building a robot to do their bidding.  Once it’s finished, this lychee-fruit powered automaton’s first order is:  bring them a girl!

In displaying the violence and decadence of the club’s ambitions, Furuya seems to be asking at what point do we give up the things we cling to as youths.  Yes, building a giant robot to obey your every command, solving every problem through violence, and even how you relate to your friends may seem cool and fun at one point, but that won’t last.  Eventually you need to realize that things won’t stay the same and that you need to change or risk losing your self, your mind and everything else.

There’s plenty of other food for thought in this volume, and it’s rendered in spectacular detail by Furuya.  He’s an artist who will draw every last line if the scene calls for it, especially when it involves some of the most face-ripping, chest-bursting, and head-splodingest action this side of a Garth Ennis comic.  Remember what I said about needing a strong stomach for this collection?  Well, the last two chapters are pure Grand Guignol spectacle and while I admire the creativity and detail to the violence here -- your mileage may vary.  While the “easily offended” tag also applies here, there are certain explicit scenes of homosexuality between some of the boys and while it makes sense within the context of the story and feeds into its themese, I realize that it’s just not going to fly with some people.  (After all is said and done in the end, I figure the whole cast got better... and then went on to be good Republicans.)

There’s also the sustained feeling of unreality this series generates.  After the killing in the first chapter, and the unveiling of their robot, the book ceased to exist in the real world for me.  Fortunately Furuya does a very good job of detailing the personalities of the boys and depicting the growth of the robot they create, there’s still stuff to hold on to as the story itself grows increasingly more violent and surreal.  So it’s REALLY not a book for everyone.  I enjoyed it, but I’ve always liked twisted stuff like this.  It’s not out just to shock you, but to make you think as well and that’s what makes it worthwhile.  So kudos to Vertical for bringing it out here and for their notes on the German in this collection, and Furuya’s relationship to the play this was based on (no, learning that fact really didn’t surprise me in the end).

*“Heartbroken Angels” was a very funny series of 4-panel comics that showed the right way to do sex jokes and served as an inspiration for the creator of the webcomic “Sexy Losers.”  “Short Cuts” had a similar multi-panel style, thus my comparison.

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