Now this is why I love Vertical. Publishing josei -- young women’s -- manga is not yet a common occurrence in North America and what examples of it we do have trend more towards slice-of-life stories that deal with their protagonists’ love lives in either a comedic or dramatic context. “Helter Skelter” is a suspense-bordering-on-horror story about the unraveling of an immensely popular model’s life and the people caught in the vortex of it. While the story buys itself a lot of leeway with its unique approach to the genre, it ultimately provides enough twisted thrills to overcome its flaws.
There were a lot of great moments in “Hellboy: The Storm and The Fury,” and one of my favorites was a brief bit near the end of the second half. It was all of two panels, as we saw images of Abe, Liz and Roger with narration indicating that it was going to be up to them to use the time Hellboy was buying here to ensure that the spirit of man will survive into the next world. Make no mistake, in the world of “Hellboy” and “B.P.R.D” the apocalypse is at hand and there’s no turning back the clock to make things all better. I may have been hoping that was the case even after this series adopted the “Hell on Earth” subtitle, but after reading this volume the weight behind that moment becomes particularly clear.
My main enjoyment from this series has come from seeing Tsutomu Nihei apply his distinct style to some decidedly conventional material. The results have been of an “acquired taste” so far, but this volume may signal the story’s transition into something legitimately entertaining for all. While the focus is still on the conflict between the humans and the aliens known as the Gauna, Nihei rolls out the plot in the most straightforward manner yet as the development of synthetic kabizashi -- the rare material that can pierce a Gauna’s core -- may give humanity the edge in battle. We also get more of the backstory and find out just what became of the scientist Ochiai and why his research nearly destroyed the Sidonia. That particular thread leads into a very creepy cliffhanger which makes me glad that there’s enough of a backlog of this title in Japan to keep the volumes coming here at a bi-monthly rate (for now).
Nihei still has a ways to go, though, in getting the hang of the emotional moments needed to sell his more conventional approach. An opening scene where Tanizaki saves fellow pilot Izana’s life comes off as silly because you’re left wondering a) why aren’t there any guardrails and b) how is the middle-gendered individual such a klutz that he/she wound up in that situation in the first place. There’s also a sequence towards the end where Tanizaki pleads with Kunato -- the pilot who set him up to screw up a combat mission -- to join the gang for dinner and the latter’s response is so saccharine and out-of-character that the moment is more laughable than anything else. The overall package, including his detailed art which gives even the most conventional areas a sinister look to them, is good enough that I’m enjoying myself in spite of these issues but I think he’s capable of doing better now.
The successful partnership between Dark Horse and Joss Whedon got another shot in the arm this week. In case you haven’t heard, there’s currently a new “Firefly/Serenity” series in the pipeline from the publisher. No word on when this will actually hit the stands, but the safe money is on the nebulous term of “sometime next year.” The teaser images imply that Serenity and its crew are headed to some unknown region of space which would seem to put it at odds with its “space western” roots and a bit more into “Star Trek” territory. Still, its creators have shown that they know what they’re doing with the franchise in the past so the odds are that it’ll all work out for the best once it arrives next year.
After nineteen volumes, it’s over at last.
Except for occasional bits of cleverness, Brubaker’s run on “Captain America” has been on a steady downward slide since “No Escape.” In that volume, Baron Zemo notched a win over on Bucky and the villains in this series have basically been doing that to the heroes ever since. Sin and Crossbones did it in “The Trial of Captain America,” that head of the prison camp got the info he wanted in “Prisoner of War,” and an entirely new character, Codename Bravo, managed the same in the first volume of the relaunch. This trend has made the series turn into a depressing slog regardless of the quality of the art and has also made me consider selling off all of the volumes released after “Two Americas” because I can’t see myself going back to re-read these again.
I was surprised to hear this when the news broke last night, but it didn’t upset me. After his career melted down in a tabloid bonfire post-”Gigli” in 2003 and appeared to receive its final nail in 2004 with “Surviving Christmas,” Affleck knew he had to reinvent himself. Switching to directing with “Gone Baby Gone” earned him some good notices and he also scaled back his acting gigs to smaller roles in ensemble films. Then came “The Town” in 2010 which was a phoenomenal heist/crime film that subverted a lot of cliches for the genre and really benefitted from the attention to detail he showed throughout it. “Argo” wouldn’t have been my pick for best picture last year, but it was still a thoroughly entertaining historical thriller regardless of the liberties taken with the story. After crawling back from what appeared to be total professional and personal ruin to Oscar-winning glory, I can’t imagine that he’d throw it all away just to be a superhero again if he didn’t think that he could pull it off.
So while I can understand the internet furor over his casting, I can’t say that I share it. Yes, he may seem like a better Bruce Wayne on paper, but if you’ve seen “The Town” you know that he can be intense and threatening as well. That said, it’s also heartening to read that some people haven’t forgotten that we’ve already been down this road before with casting relating to a “Batman” movie. If I’m disappointed about anything in this news, it’s that he won’t be directing it as well. While “Man of Steel” wasn’t a bad movie, there’s no indication that Snyder, Goyer and co. have acknowledged that there was anything that needed fixing with regards to it. Yes, your movie did post the biggest June opening ever, but when a film opens at over $110 million and can’t even make it to $300 million it’s a sign that you just got a whole lot of fanboys to see it once as opposed to multiple times along with the general filmgoing public.
What’s the takeaway from this? Keep an open mind and pay attention to what the filmmakers are going to say about the movie -- that’ll be the real indication of its quality. Also, check out “The Town” if you haven’t already. Even if you hate Affleck, you may wind up disliking him a little less -- at least -- after watching it. I swear.
Some interesting bits from the Alpha Male of Marvel editor Tom Brevoort courtesy of “Bleeding Cool” (naturally…):
When posting an image of the new “Mighty Avengers” series from Greg Land on Twitter, T-Voort got some flack from one individual who said that he was going to pass on it due to the artist’s trace-heavy style. (There was another exchange between the two that was part of the article earlier, but I don’t know where it has gone.) The commenter then went on to list, “Parlov, Phillips, Cooke, Deodato, Leon, Zircher, Kordey, Aja, Lark and Quitely,” which, if nothing else, shows him to be a man of good taste in my opinion. T-Voort shoots back by saying at least three of the artists mentioned trace “as much or more” than Land does.
Regardless of which artists take part in this practice, the difference between all of them and Land is that they’re not nearly as obvious about it. While he has gotten better over the years, there’s still plenty of awkward posing and odd, awkward facial expressions in his work to keep yanking the reader out of the narrative. I can’t say that I’d ever not buy a comic just because of his involvement, but if what the T-Voort says is true, then there’s hope for Land to eliminate his quirks by looking closely at how the artists in that list depict the human form.
I’m going to break with the format for these things because I want to talk about “Sex.”
Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski have been giving us “Sex” for months now and the time has come for them to give us lots of “Sex” at once. Up until now you had to go down to your comic shop to get “Sex” or find some way to order it online. Not anymore! Come November, you’ll be able to order “Sex” online from any respectable retailer like Amazon and even give lots of “Sex” to your friends as well. It contains eight issues, so this could wind up being the biggest, thickest, bunch of “Sex” that you’ll be able to take all at once. Is it any good? Who cares if it’s good, it’s “Sex” and it’s better to have some of it than none at all.
There are likely dozens, if not hundreds of creators who have thought of creating a series with this title before Casey pulled the trigger on it. You could sell a title like this regardless of its content based on the title alone and the willingness of thousands of arrested adolescents to make cheap jokes about it. That’s because it’s the kind of simple, dirty joke that never gets old and that everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- can participate in.
If you hated seeing Bendis take on “Avengers” proper -- that is to say a Cap/Thor/Iron Man led team with characters who have traditionally been a part of it -- after writing “New Avengers” for years, then you’re going to love this volume. That’s because it’ll give you lots of new reasons to use in any argument that it was a mistake for him to do so in the first place. Hell, I liked the first volume of the series he did where Kang broke time and not only gave John Romita Jr. the license to draw some truly insane action sequences, but also had a cleverly calculated anticlimax that showed us how having Iron Man beg an enemy for mercy could actually work. Everything after that has been... not exactly bad but decidedly uneven. This volume, however, is just terrible and it all hinges on the writer’s use of Wonder Man.