Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s supernatural tale about family, love, loss and magical keys comes to its end here. While I wasn’t blown away by it at first, subsequent volumes did an excellent job of deepening the characters, raising the stakes and telling some very compelling stories with lots of clever twists. After reading vol. 5, waiting for this final volume to come out in hardcover exacted a special kind of patience from me. Now that it’s here I have to say that it’s not quite the complete home run that I was expecting. Yet there is so much more good than bad here that it’s easy to forgive the book for the minor stumbles it makes.
One of the more memorable moments from Tsutomu Nihei’s “Biomega” was the introduction of Funipero in its last third. This strange human/alien child was weirdly cute in a way that only the Japanese can manage and went on to play a key role in the story’s outcome instead of coasting on said cuteness. In short, she was quite moe for lack of a better term. Now we have her successor in “Sidonia” in the form of Tsumugi Shiraui, a human/Gauna hybrid as tall as the Garde mecha piloted in this series, who is unfailingly polite with the heart of a teenage girl, and according to the color pages in this volume pink from head to toe. Being a Gauna hybrid, she also looks like a giant Geiger-esque monstrosity as designed by Nihei, but that’s how the man rolls. The very idea that the mangaka would put all these traits into a single character, which is simultaneously a part of and dramatically opposed to Japanese otaku trends, only serves to underline what I like about this series.
Tsumugi gets a big “saves the day” opening at the beginning of the volume and we get more scenes later on to showcase her fearsome fighting capabilities as well as how she reacts when pushed to extremes by the enemy. Unsurprisingly, her appearance is met with suspicion and fear by the Sidonia’s crew though Tanikaze proves to be the natural exception here. Even though she’s a multi-story human/alien organism bred for war who regenerates in a bio-organic nutrient bath, he treats her just like another comrade in arms. She reciprocates in ways that show her to be if not in love, clearly infatuated with the clueless pilot. How else can one interpret her molesting him with tentacles halfway through the book? Though we do get some intriguing developments regarding Kobayashi’s command of the ship, the rest of the volume follows the formula of the genre pretty well. Tsumugi really doesn’t shake that up, but her very presence presents some of its most traditional conventions in a fascinatingly weird way that feels most welcome here.
Why yes, this collection did come out over a month ago. Did it take me that long to buy it? Nope, it’s been sitting on my dresser for roughly that long. I wouldn’t say that’s because of any apathy that the series has fostered in me, that’s what happened to Ai Yazawa’s “Nana.” No, in the case of “Morning Glories,” it’s becoming increasingly apparent that if you want to get the most out of the latest volume, you’re going to have to go back and read all of the ones that came before. Amazon tells me that vol. 7 comes out in April, so this is something I’ll have to do when it arrives. As for vol. 6 in the here and now, it soldiers on and manages to be quite readable even if everything is weighed down by what has come before.
Normally whenever I write a review, it’s at least a day or two after I’ve read the comic in question. I do it because I think it allows for a bit more objectivity in most cases to let my initial impressions fade a bit and to think on what worked and didn’t work. Today, I make an exception. Not just because this is “Conan,” but because it’s Valentine’s Day and the story in question is about the barbarian king putting the memory of his greatest love to rest. With beheadings! As fun as that sounds, this might be the last time I do something like this as “Phantoms of the Black Coast” comes off as the least satisfying “Conan” miniseries I’ve read.
From what I heard, after his success with “Daredevil” Marvel basically went to Mark Waid and asked, “Do we have anyone else that you could do that with?” Now we have his take on Bruce Banner and his big, green anger issue. This is also coming after Jason Aaron’s run which had its issues, but was generally enjoyable overall. Waid picks up from there as Banner has essentially made his peace with the Hulk and now wants to find a way to use his condition in a more productive manner. That means working with S.H.I.E.L.D. to create great scientific advances as Banner and being a living, breathing hand grenade they can throw into any situation as the Hulk. In this volume alone, we see that concept in action as he goes toe-to-toe with the Mad Thinker, the Quintronic Man, and Attuma as he leads the monsters of Lemuria in war against the surface world. All that, and he blows off some long-building steam with Tony Stark too.
It’s a good premise with good potential that can be expanded upon in numerous ways. The issues collected here are pretty straightforward villain/monster-of-the-month type affairs which give us some pretty decent superhero action. Waid’s take on Banner as someone who has come to an understanding with the defining problem of his life is fine, though the idea of the scientist using his genius to make world-changing scientific advancements is at odds with the fact that he’s not going to be able to change the Marvel Universe with these things. In fact, I’d say that the writer’s best contribution is in giving artist Lenil Yu plenty of crazy things to draw. Yu really cuts loose here, imbuing even the talking heads scenes with energy and serving up some excitingly detailed work on his fight scenes -- particularly against the Quintronic man and the undersea monsters of Lemuria. Unfortunately he won’t be back for the next volume -- but it’ll have Walt Simonson on for an arc -- but there’s enough fun in the action and intrigue with Banner’s new direction to make a convincing case for me to pick up vol. 2 when it comes out.
Ultimately, I decided not to wait for the deluxe hardcover and picked up the existing softcover version of this miniseries a couple weeks back. Not only does it represent writer Dan Slott’s highest profile work with DC before he found a long-term home at Marvel, I believe it also represents the most consecutive issues illustrated by Ryan Sook in any series he’s been associated with. Even though it has these unique qualities, is it really the kind of series that deserves a deluxe hardcover edition? No, not quite. The title has a lot going for it, and is an entertaining read on balance. Yet there are a couple issues that keep it from achieving real greatness.
The strengths and weaknesses of this series’ first volume are preserved quite well here. Kieron Gillen continues to write very clever and snappy dialogue while throwing plenty of interesting complications into the cast’s personal and romantic lives. Jamie McKelvie is joined by Kate Brown for an issue and she proves to be up to the task of equaling him in portraying expressive characters and inventive panel layouts. That said, if all of this struck you as being “too clever” or even “trying too hard” the first time around, there’s nothing here that will change your mind. I did like this volume a bit more than the first mainly because the plot actually develops some real hooks to get your attention with the mystery of “Evil Patriot,” the “trial separation” of Wiccan and Hulkling, and the return of Leah.
When I came into work today, our office manager kicked things off by asking, “Jason! Did you watch ‘The Walking Dead’ last night?” She’s a big fan and talking about the show is one of a few things we’ve bonded over. That said, she wasn’t all that impressed with last night’s midseason premiere -- more explosions and action were expected. After she said her piece, I let her know that we would have to agree to disagree on this. You can’t keep the tension from a big game-changing moment like the battle at the prison going all the time. There needs to be time to decompress, dial back, and have the characters take stock of their current situation. I’m pretty sure I still have my job after conveying all this to her, so this will continue to be conversation fodder at the office. That being said, it was also nice to see how much of the episode was taken straight from the comic.
All of that complaining I did about how long some of the basketball matches went on for in “Slam Dunk?” I take it all back now. Though the final match stretched on in that title for seven volumes, the current storyline in “Girl Genius” looks like it will match or possibly exceed that length as well. The difference between these two series is that while “Slam Dunk’s” final arc lasted for over a year during its initial serialization in Japan (and was republished in the space of a year on our shores) the “Mechanicsburg” arc in “Girl Genius” has been ongoing since February 2007. The comics collected in this volume take us up to December 2012, and they’re still not done yet. It doesn’t seem like the story has gotten away from Phil and Kaja Foglio so much as it has evolved into its own self-perpetuating engine of madness. Kind of like most of the creations from the characters in this title, actually.
Yet even though I’ve gone into the last few volumes of “Girl Genius” with the hope that this will be the last volume in the storyline, I’ve still come away from them satisfied. Even though the story was started so many years ago, it has undergone lots of changes and shifts in direction, subplots raised and completed, and characters irrevocably changed that it bears little resemblance to how it began. In fact, the stakes are raised even higher as all-out war is declared on Mechanicsburg and all manner of living and mechanical monstrosities converge on the town to grind it into rubble. This gives the Foglios even more license than usual to cut loose with their mad science creations and some gloriously over-the-top ranting from the cast itself. So even if the story itself feels interminable at this point, the journey itself is still an entertaining romp with unflagging energy. Other creators could stand to learn a thing or two here -- about the unflagging energy, not the length. NOT. THE. LENGTH.
PENISES! BOOBS! NAKED BUTTS! VAGINAL HAIR!
These are all things you’ll see in abundance this volume as the liquid being sprayed on the humans at the end of the previous volume turned out to be the kind that dissolves clothing. It’s hard to call such an act “fanservice” as we see all types of men and women in their birthday suits over the course of this volume. That setup makes for a particularly unsettling reading experience as we see Tae and a group of other characters struggle with escaping the alien ship they’re trapped in while naked. If the giant stature of the aliens and their craft didn’t make the job already intimidating, the nudity adds a whole other layer of vulnerability to what they’re attempting here. Naked humans aside, this is the first volume of “Gantz” in a long while that doesn’t contain anything that annoys the hell out of me.