The thought of this series taking another detour from the story of Jedi Dass Jennir and the crew of the Uhumele didn’t really strike me as a promising start for this story. Such detours haven’t worked out all that well for “B.P.R.D.” after all. Yet the more I read into this volume, the focus on Master K’Kruhuk and his band of Jedi refugees became steadily less of an issue. In fact, if this is the last we’ll be seeing of them in this series I can say that they all went out on a high note.
Otherwise known as, “The Series That’s Holding Up the Third Volume of ‘Phonogram.’” That being said, this is still a new work from one of comics’ most reliably entertaining and inventive teams, Kieron Gillen and Jaime McKelvie. They knocked it out of the park on the first two volumes of “Phonogram,” the the issues of “Generation Hope” they collaborated on were good fun as well. Here, they’ve been given stewardship of the latest incarnation of “Young Avengers,” which also happens to be the first incarnation I’ve gotten around to reading. For their initial volume they’ve hit upon a story that spotlights the natural villain of any teen superhero: parents.
Okay, after this one I’m thinking that they can give these “dated” flashback miniseries a rest. The two previous ones annoyed me (yes, even the one with art from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon) because they felt like diversions that were keeping us from the more interesting main plot of the series. I was more optimistic about this volume because regular “B.P.R.D.” co-writer John Arcudi would be co-scripting this one as well. To be sure, “1948” has a little more excitement than its predecessors, but not enough to make me hope that Mike Mignola and co. don’t waste their resources on another one of these series.
...off to a pretty good start. Last night’s premiere wasn’t mind-blowingly awesome, but it was suitably entertaining for a series that aims to give us a more grounded view of the Marvel Universe on a weekly basis. It’s not going to be all-superheroes all the time, as the pilot makes clear. The focus is on the returned Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his handpicked team of operatives as they try to deal with the rise in superhuman activity following the events of the “Avengers” movie -- or “The Battle of New York” for everyone in the show. Though it’s smart of them to go that way, it’s kind of a double-edged sword as far as I’m concerned. Even for a show with a pilot as witty and well-acted as this.
If seeing junior high kids die after piloting the giant mecha Zearth has been enough drama to sustain this series over eight volumes, then showing us how their sole elementary school pilot accepts her fate should be even more dramatic. Right? That’s only partly true here. As we found out at the end of the last volume, little Kana Ushiro is also signed a contract and is Zearth’s next pilot. Before she dies, she wants her brother Jun to be reunited with his mother whose identity is (unsurprisingly) revealed here. Now there are moments when this approach works, such as when we see her father crumple to the ground with the realization that his only daughter is going to die, the last few moments she spends with him, and when she completely loses her cool in battle for reasons that mark the volume’s dramatic high point. Even so, the series’ core concept of having kids die after they pilot the mech in battle is dramatic enough and to have an even younger kid put through the same wringer feels a bit shameless to me.
More of an issue is that a lot of what Kana does in this volume is out of familial love for her brother Jun, who has been portrayed as thoroughly (bordering on aggressively) unlikeable since the very start. I get that the actions of his sister are meant to get us to sympathize with him and motivate his expected act of self-sacrifice towards the end here. Does it work? Not really. Jun has been portrayed as such a self-centered little jerk that it’s hard to believe that he’d do what he does here. It would seem more likely that the events of this volume would drive him further into his shell than bring him out of it at last. Even if that particular plot doesn’t quite work, the end of the volume gives me hope that things will pick up. If only for the reason that it looks like Koyemshi has come face-to-face with the one thing in this scenario he can’t control and may finally know fear.
When we last left Garth Ennis’ MAX incarnation of Nick Fury he was fighting for French interests in the country everyone would later come to know as Vietnam and escaping Cuba after a botched attempt on Fidel Castro’s life. Not only is this the story of one man who lusts for combat and the means to keep it going, it’s also of how the Military-Industrial complex got us the world we live in today. Ennis has written a lot about this and war in general over the years and the focus on specific times and places in history helped set it apart from his previous work. That continues here to good effect here as we visit wartime Vietnam in the 70’s and Central America in the 80’s, and allows the writer to find a natural place for Frank Castle and Barracuda in the proceedings too. It may be bleak, and some of the proceedings may be familiar, but it’s still worthy of a place in your library if you like Ennis’ war stories.
I’ve written before about how great expectations can really affect my enjoyment of a given work. Brian Vaughan, Kaoru Mori, and Ed Brubaker have all found themselves on the receiving end of this sentiment at some point. “Tropic of the Sea,” is a special case. You see, this is the longest manga work from Satoshi Kon. If you’re not familiar with the name, then you should know that he went on to become one of the most distinctive, progressive, and acclaimed anime directors of the late 90’s and early aughts. He only directed four theatrical films, “Perfect Blue,” “Millenium Actress,” “Tokyo Godfathers,” and “Paprika,” and one series, “Paranoia Agent,” but they showed that he could tackle any kind of genre or subject matter and effortlessly draw the viewer in every time. His career was cut short in 2010, however, after he passed away from pancreatic cancer with his final film, “The Dream Machine,” still incomplete.
So you see, this book arrives with the weight of being the LAST SIGNIFICANT WORK we may ever see from Kon on these shores. It would take something close to a masterpiece not to buckle under the weight of those expectations. “Tropic of the Sea” is not that kind of work. In fact, it’s one of his earliest and as he makes clear in the afterword, the fact that he managed to complete this at all is basically an achievement unto itself. As for the quality of the story, it’s a slight tale about the restlessness of youth, the urbanization of a quiet seaside town, with some magical realism thrown in to spice things up.
Consider this the beginning of the end for Hiroaki Samura’s epic.
With Shira out of the way in spectacular fashion, the narrative now shifts back to Habaki Kagimura and his Rokki-dan’s efforts to wipe out the rest of the Itto-ryu and the maverick sword school’s work to counter that. That’s made clear as the bulk of the group on the run splits off into two in order to confuse their pursuers and reduce the pressure on them. On one hand, this does lead to some fantastically tense action scenes and strategic standoffs as the opposing parties try to outmaneuver each other physically and mentally. The catch is that this volume also gets bogged down by a lot of exposition relating to these things. That winds up slowing a lot of the book’s momentum as it heads into the home stretch, but it still manages to pack in a number of significant developments to keep the reader invested in what happens next.
So there was an article on Bleeding Cool last week talking about a new way for publisher marketshare to be measured that Marvel and Dark Horse have been pushing for. This new system would track retail share per item sold by Diamond. So rather than just a flat percent for “unit share” and “dollar share,” we’d get an idea about how the titles from each company perform in relation to one another. While Marvel and DC still dominate using this new system, the gap between the two is more pronounced. Also, even though IDW has a bigger marketshare than Dark Horse at the moment, this new system shows that the latter company does better per item than the former. It’s something to consider. That even as the raw numbers show the company’s place in the market to be diminished, there’s still life in their careful approach.
David Petersen's epic about mice forging their own medival society is as good as the wait between volumes is interminable!
(And don't mind the bumped podcast below. There's nothing new if you've listened to it before, just some issues with editing the post itself...)