Joe Kubert passed away over the weekend and while he certainly deserved the title “legendary artist” for his work on “Sgt. Rock,” “Tor,” “Fax From Sarajevo,” and numerous other DC war and superhero titles, his legacy extends far beyond his artistic skills. The man also founded the “Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art” which trained many of the industry’s top talents, including some of my personal favorites like Adam Warren, Alex Maleev and Steve Lieber. Cartooning was also in his blood, just take a look at the careers of his sons, Adam and Andy. I’m not going to say that he went out on a low note by contributing to the “Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” mini-series because I’m betting that he saw it as a chance to collaborate on a project with Andy, and everything I’ve read about that series tells me that its awfulness is due in no part to his work. He was overseeing and contributing to a “Joe Kubert Presents” (issue #2 is solicited this month) mini-series spotlighting unpublished and new work, though its fate at this point is uncertain. He will be missed, but his contributions to the industry ensure that he won’t be forgotten.
Even if it didn’t stick its landing, I still enjoyed Terry Moore’s “Echo” a great deal and that made picking up the first volume of his newest series an easy choice. Where “Echo” was a clear departure from his signature work, the grounded relationship drama “Strangers in Paradise,” “Rachel Rising” is another sharp right turn in what you’d expect from the man. This is a supernatural horror series that begins with the title character crawling her way out of a shallow grave in the woods and shambling out to the highway and back home. She’s not a zombie, but Rachel can’t remember how she got to this point in the first place, and why there are strangulation scars around her neck. By the end of the volume, though, we’ll find out that not only is there a whole lot more to her condition, it isn't unique either...
Manji vs. Shira: Round 1 -- did it disappoint? HELL NO! This latest volume of “Blade of the Immortal” is one of the most intense reads in the series, and (as usual) one of the most captivating things I’ve read all year. After a chapter where we find out the final, bloody fate of Baro Sukezane of the Itto-Ryu, the narrative starts gearing up for the inevitable conflict. Now the thing about this series is that while Manji has always been portrayed as a resourceful and inventive fighter even before he had immortality thrust upon him, the man has never been “the best there is at what he does.” This became more true after he lost an arm a few volumes back. What’s more is that here he’s pitted against an opponent that, much like “Frank Castle written by Garth Ennis,” has considered all of the angles in his attack.
I initially thought that this was only going to be a two-volume fantasy-action romp from “Hellsing” creator Kohta Hirano, but I was wrong. It turns out that this is an “ongoing” series that doesn’t have an endpoint in sight yet. Now this would be bad news if the title simply delivered up more of the mindless, over-the-top fantasy battles that defined it previously. Much to my surprise, Hirano expands the scope of the story and ups the ambition of its characters to give the proceedings some substance to match the style.
Greg Rucka has written some good comics for Marvel and DC, and some great ones for Oni. (Both volumes of “Whiteout” and “Queen and Country” for the latter if you’re wondering.) Now, after a brief vacation from the industry -- ended in part by “Atomic Robo,” go read the man’s introduction to vol. 6 if you don’t believe me -- the man is back writing about the exploits of Marvel’s foremost villain killer Frank Castle. Of course, in this post-Garth Ennis era, you really need a strong hook with the character if you’re going to make him work. Jason Aaron has done this by having him interact with “mature readers” versions of familiar Marvel Universe villains in his run. Rucka has taken a different tact, which is good, though I’m not sure if turning the title character into a supporting player in his own book is the right way to sustain a series.
I’m almost convinced that this would make for a better hentai manga, or even a seinen manga, than the “corrupt” shonen romance it aims to portray. Except in one instance, “The Flowers of Evil” just doesn’t go far enough to escape its blandness and adherence to genre cliches. There was one clever twist about halfway through when blackmailing outcast Nakamura uses the blossoming relationship between her patsy Kasuga and class star Saeki to give herself a leg up in social standing. That’s quickly balanced out by a scene where Saeki asks Nakamura whether or not he’s hiding anything from her, and he responds to her in a way that makes it clear to ANYONE who’s looking at him that the boy is lying to her face. Right around that point I considered chucking the two volumes of this series into my “to sell” pile.
And yet... the volume climaxes in a scene that would probably have been less filthy if there had been actual sex in it. Pushed to the limit by Nakamura, Kasuga flips out and starts scrawling his guilt all over their classroom during a clandestine meeting between the two at night. It starts with chalk, then ink, brushes, paint, mops... the entire room winds up utterly vandalized as the two lay on their backs, exhausted as the sun comes up. There is a kind of “Was it good for you?” at the end, which completes its metaphor of the wild sexual abandon the reader was just witness to. If the book had more scenes like this, then I’d be singing its praises to everyone. If it had none, then I could at least drop it in good conscience that I wouldn’t be missing anything. Right now it’s on the cusp of either, and I’ll probably keep reading until it gives me a solid reason for doing one or the other.
Going back to “Daredevil” for a bit, if Mark Waid didn’t come along to reset the tone and inject some positivity and good humor into the title and character, it was inevitable that someone would’ve done it at some point. That’s the nature of these corporate-owned characters -- they’re meant to be kept continually in play for reasons of copyright and promotion. So you can’t keep grinding them down into nothing because the system just won’t allow it. Now I realize it’s stupid to say that a creator-owned title like this could benefit from that kind of mindset about heaping nothing but miserabalism onto your main character, but this volume represents a tipping point for me. The first volume was good, but the second one started hard fightin’, harder living, hardest drinking intergalactic action hero Heath Hudson on a downward spiral that only gets worse with this volume.
Daredevil is a character who tends to be defined by how far a writer can grind him down and still leave something for others to work with. You can probably trace this back to Frank Miller’s definitive run, and even more so in his follow-up “Born Again” with David Mazzuchelli. This became even more apparent in the title’s previous volume. You started out with Kevin Smith killing Karen Page, then Bendis outed the character’s identity and wound up sending him to jail. Brubaker followed up by getting him out of jail, but ruining his marriage and eventually setting him up as the leader of the Hand, where Andy Diggle then had him succumb to demon possession though I stopped reading before we got to that. Now Mark Waid is taking a crack at the character with a run that been very highly praised up to this point and contributed in large part to the writer’s Eisner wins at this past Comic-Con. The best part is: all of this praise is justified.