I’ve written regularly about my issues with Dark Horse manga over the years, yet I’ve come to realize something over this past year. Consider all of the series that I’ve been reading this year that have ended: “20th Century Boys,” “Tenjo Tenge,” “Bakuman,” “Saturn Apartments,” and “Slam Dunk.” They’re all titles published by Viz. For years the company has done an excellent job of using all of that “Shonen Jump Money” to fund lesser-known titles that appeal to an older, less mainstream audience. While that description doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the titles I’ve just mentioned, it would appear that they’re not keen on doing that anymore. Whether it’s an ongoing issue with the contraction of the manga market, or a sign that staff at Viz aren’t pushing as hard for more esoteric titles, the fact remains that their line has become a lot less interesting to me as a result.
Two volumes in and I think I’ve realized why this series isn’t clicking for me yet.
In the wake of “DMZ,” this was the title I was most looking forward to from Brian Wood in the wake of his profile-boosting work on “X-Men,” “Conan,” and “Star Wars.” After all, the common wisdom in the industry is that work-for-hire is only a means to an end for a creator to support the titles that they own and really want to do. That should ideally mean that a writer or artist’s creator-owned work should be better than anything they’re doing for a character or concept that they don’t own since they’re able to funnel their full passion and creativity into it. Yet that hasn’t been the case for Wood on this series as his work on the above-mentioned titles has been more satisfying that what I’ve read here. It all comes down to what I think is a miscalculation on his part as to where “The Massive” should’ve started.
For a while, I was afraid that we’d have to wait until sometime in 2014 for another volume of this series. Then the solicitations informed me that vol. 8 would be arriving just in time for the holidays. “Empowered” has been a consistently entertaining series, in spite of its excesses, and that continues here as well. Long-time readers will also be glad to know that we finally get some closure on the ongoing Sistah Spooky/Mindf--- storyline that also represents a turning point in the latter character’s mindset as well. Of course, this all would’ve been more enjoyable if writer/artist/creator Adam Warren hadn’t felt the need to hedge his bets so much here.
If anything, the biggest problem I have with Dan Slott’s Dr. Octopus-as-Spider-Man uber-storyline is that I keep hearing Doc Ock’s voice in my head instead of Peter Parker’s. I don’t just mean his internal monologues, but his regular speaking voice as well. Everyone in the story remarks about how the character sounds the same, yet that he’s more dangerous and aggressive than before. Reading the dialogue, however, is a much different story. There’s a noticeable difference between how Peter Parker as Spider-Man sounds in the “Big Time: Complete Collections” (two volumes out so far, both quite good) and how Otto Octavius does as the character here. You’d think that someone would’ve picked up on this basic difference by now and the fact that they haven’t requires a massive suspension of disbelief on my part.
Assuming you can muster that kind of suspension, then you’re likely to enjoy this third volume of “Superior Spider-Man” as well. I mean, how else would you have gotten this far? Slott (with scripting assistance from Christos Gage on the first three issues here) continues to provide a clever take on the old villain taking over the hero’s life trope. Otto may be doing an objectively better job as a crimefighter with his ruthless methods, yet he’s also making new mistakes that are going to come back and bite him on the ass in short order.
So the upcoming issue #27 of “Detective Comics” is a Really Big Deal for DC. I realize this must be common knowledge for a lot of people who read this blog, but in case you’re not aware of this bit of comics history, Batman’s first appearance was in the first issue #27 of “Detective Comics” back in the 30’s. As a result, we’re getting a mega-sized anniversary issue which kicks off a major crossover, and features contributions from notable Bat-creators past and present. One of these creators is Miller. Justifiably revered for “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One,” he’s also equally reviled these days for “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” and “All-Star Batman and Robin,” as well as just about all of the comics work he’s done since he stopped doing “Sin City.” Still, you can’t have a celebration of Batman without inviting him along so he was announced as contributing something to this issue.
Our buddy Brandon joins us this week to talk about this innovative run whose flaws are ultimately overcome by its frequent brilliance.
Also, those of you looking for a more seasonal "Batman" story are recommended to click here.
While I like the idea of an X-Men team made up of the most prominent members of their female cast, and written by Wood as well, there’s still the matter of what distinguishes it from the other titles. “Uncanny” is about Cyclops’ rogue team, “Wolverine and the” focuses on the school, and “All New” is the story of the time-displaced team. Not having any team members with a Y-chromosome doesn’t do a whole lot to suggest potential stories, but it is at least more distinctive than “Uncanny X-Force” which appears to be made up of characters that Sam Humphries felt like writing. As for whether or not Wood tells a compelling story with these characters; well, it’s not quite there yet.
In the previous volume for this series… Actually, that was the first one I didn’t talk about here. It wasn’t that it was bad or even disappointing, just that it continued on from what had come before in fairly seamless fashion. Yes, we got the start of an extended arc about the Gauna sending an asteroid on a collision course with the Sidonia and an interesting twist with the mind of Ochiai the scientist finding its way into Kunato’s, but there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out as being particularly noteworthy from a stylistic sense. A large part of the appeal of this series, for me at least, is seeing how someone like mangaka Tsutomu Nihei is adapting his very distinct sensibilities to a fairly conventional story. Now that the initial shock of seeing him do this and the growing pains of the first few volumes are out of the way, we find the title settling into a nice groove as it were.
Though the story is unfolding at a nice pace, the most notable thing about this volume is how real violence factors into the ostensible slapstick moments. We’ve all seen the moment where a guy walks in on some girls changing -- or about to engage in “photosynthesis” as it is here -- and have them clean his clock for it. However, to see one of them kick the door out, have it slam into protagonist Tanikaze’s face, crush him up against the wall in a bloody mess, then crash on his head as he reaches for a rice ball; well, that’s something special, particularly when it’s done in an ultra-decompressed style over four pages. Tropes like these would normally be grating, yet Nihei goes overboard into showing how the characters react in these situations and I find myself looking forward to seeing what new violence is inflicted upon Tanikaze next.
… Why are you looking at me like that?
What the normal transcript of Image solicitations for this March didn’t tell you was that there were three “classified” entries -- one of them priced at $60. It has since been revealed that all of these entries involve David Lapham’s classic indie series “Stray Bullets.” Lapham published forty issues of the series himself before finding regular work with Marvel, DC and Dark horse and a lot of people have been wondering when, or even if, he’d ever come back to it. That time is now as the three solicitations include a concluding issue -- #41 -- of the original series, a new miniseries called “Killers,” and an “Uber Alles” edition of the original series including the final issue. I’ve only read one volume of “Stray Bullets,” and that was some time ago. I remember liking it well enough, so I may plunk down the necessary cash for the “Uber Alles” edition because it also sounds like good podcast fodder to me.
It’s not that I thought the first volume of Humphries’ take on this title was bad, just that it lacked a clear identity to differentiate itself from the other books in the line. Back in the old days (read: the 90’s) his story about Psylocke, Storm, Puck, and Bishop’s struggle against the revenants would’ve fit nicely in one of the flagship titles as a subplot to be developed over a couple of months rather than be worthy of its own book. Granted, he did pick up on one lingering thread from Rick Remender’s run, Psylocke’s relationship with Fantomex(s), and he at least had a clear idea of the story he wanted to tell. Though this volume doesn’t differentiate this incarnation of “Uncanny X-Force” beyond being “just another X-book,” it at least defines itself as being a good one.