The Flowers of Evil vol. 9

April 30, 2014

This series has gotten enormous mileage in making delicious suffering out of its protagonist’s entire life situation.  In news that should surprise absolutely no one who has been reading “The Flowers of Evil,” it gets some more during the first half of this book.  Still reeling from being called out by Saeki for not finding out what happened to Nakamura after the festival, Kasuga has been avoiding Tokiwa ever since.  While Tokiwa breaks the ice in this impasse, it’s to tell him that she has made up with her boyfriend and he wants to meet in order to apologize for the way he treated Kasuga.  What follows starts off as a slow burn as the boy’s disappointment becomes palpable on the page and then turns phantasmagorical as his subconscious brings all of his fears and apprehensions to life in front of him.  Even if the sequence still rigidly adheres to the books established art style, it’s still pretty creepy and one of the title’s most memorable if only for the nightmare imagery it conjures up.

After that, something happens which leads to about the last thing you’d expect here:  the longest sustained period of happiness we’ve seen in “The Flowers of Evil” so far.  It almost feels unreal seeing Kasuga experience genuine joy with his friends and a girl who doesn’t derive joy from driving her fingernails into his psyche.  The problem with this part is that it’s fairly obvious that mangaka Shuzo Oshimi really, REALLY wants you to believe in her protagonist’s happiness, as it winds up serving as a visually obvious “calm before the storm” metaphor here.  However, it’s both refreshing and surreal to see actual happiness in this title that it winds up creating a not inconsiderable amount of suspense when you start wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That does happen before the end of the volume, and thankfully not in the way that I was expecting.  Rather than the unexpected return of a certain someone, Kasuga is set up to enter a gauntlet to see if he really has changed since the time he left his hometown.

The endgame has begun.  Let’s see into what twisted places it will lead…

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Marvel Previews Picks: July 2014

April 29, 2014

Later this year, writer Charles Soule and artist Steve McNiven are giving us “The Death of Wolverine” which is said to deliver exactly what it promises in the title.  I find it hard to work up much excitement for such an event, but it at least has a fairly low bar to clear thanks to the last story the promised the same thing.  (That collection is only worth reading for the Jason Aaron story inside and if you do read it, you’ll understand why he wound up writing the character’s solo adventures for as long as he did.)

Focusing on this month, these solicitations included some mysterious “100th Anniversary” specials that had creative teams attached to them, but no descriptions.  What exactly were they celebrating the “100th Anniversary” of?  As it turns out, these are issues meant to show what the Marvel Universe will be like in 2061, 100 years after it was founded.  The whole thing strikes me as a giant ploy to cheese off DC with their “Future’s End” series, but it does have at least one reason for me to be interested:  James Stokoe.  The creator of “Orc Stain” will be writing and illustrating the “Avengers” issue and writing the “Fantastic Four” issue.  While he has done covers for the company in the past, I believe these will mark his most substantial contribution to the company as a writer/artist.  I’ll buy them if they’re on sale at Comic-Con and I hope they sell well enough for him to get more work at Marvel and boost his profile enough so that he can deliver issues of “Orc Stain” on a more frequent basis than “annually.”  Hey, it’s worked for Hickman, Gillen, Fraction and Brubaker so let’s see Stokoe utilize Marvel’s resources to boost his creator-owned profile.

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100 Bullets: Brother Lono

April 28, 2014

After one-hundred issues, I thought Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s signature comics creation wrapped up quite well.  Yet there were a couple things nagging at me afterwards.  The biggest was wondering just how things would change now that the families of the Trust were no longer pulling America’s strings.  As for the other, I wanted to know just what happened to the series biggest and baddest character:  Lono.  Though not a likeable guy by any stretch of the imagination,  it was (almost) never hard to enjoy his presence in that whenever he showed up, it was usually to ruin the day of someone who (usually) had it coming.  So when it was announced that we were getting an eight-issue miniseries about what happened to Lono after the series ended, I thought all of my wants would be addressed.  While one of them was, I was ultimately a little let down by this miniseries.  Whether or not you’ll feel the same will depend on what you believe the essence of “100 Bullets” to be.

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DC Previews Picks: July 2014

April 27, 2014

It’s only July but DC is gearing up for its big September event already.  The event in question involves the whole line tying into the “Future’s End” weekly series, so we’re getting a bunch of one-shots showing crazy future scenarios that will likely never come to pass for the inhabitants of the DC Universe.  Now if you’re wondering why DC is soliciting these titles two months early, that’s because they want to avoid the huge mess (which is putting it lightly) that ensued when the demand for the 3D covers for their “Villains Month” greatly outstripped the company’s supply.  While it’s nice to see the company exercising some actual foresight here, the problem is that they’ve advance-solicited all of these titles without any indication of who will be writing or illustrating them.  This is most likely because DC has no idea who will be doing this yet.  If that’s the case, then it looks like all of these one-shots will likely be superfluous to the stories being told in their titles.  So unless you really liked those 3D covers from “Villains Month” then it doesn’t look like you’ll need to buy any of what’s being solicited here.

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Rat Queens vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

April 26, 2014

Between this and “Skullkickers” (also maybe the upcoming “Death Vigil”) Image has pretty much cornered the market on irreverent fantasy-adventure series.  As for whether it’s the best irreverent fantasy-adventure title for your money; well, that’s up for debate.  The Rat Queens are one of several mercenary groups hanging around the quiet and peaceful town of Palisade and making it considerably less quiet and peaceful with all of the drinking, fighting, and other unsavory antics they get up to.  For penance, the Queens are assigned some menial out-of-town quests with the other groups -- Peaches, Four Daves, Brother Ponies, and Obsidian Darkness -- that turn out to be setups to get them all killed.  From this setup as well as the chaos that follows, it’s clear that writer Kurtis J. Wiebe knows what kind of tone he wants for this story, and is successful in pulling it off more often than not.  He’s also working with an artist in Roc Upchurch whose style looks detailed enough to pass for “serious” fantasy but proves to be surprisingly adept at selling all the jokes.

Where the book falls down a bit is in its characters.  The four Rat Queens are billed on the back cover as:  Hannah, the rockabilly elven mage; Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter; Dee, the atheist human cleric; and Betty, the hippy smidgen (read:  gnome/hobbit/short fantasy person) thief.  Do these descriptions match up with the standard-issue characterizations we get on the inside?  No, but seeing each character in her role feels more like the literary equivalent of comfort food than annoying.  That said, the idea of an atheist in a “Dungeons & Dragons”-style world is more dumb than anything else.  Fans of “Skullkickers” should also know that this title is certifiably R-rated in its language and violence and while that approach leads to some eye-popping moments and great one-liners it makes me appreciate that title’s well-crafted absurdity all the more.  I was entertained, but let’s see if future volumes can actually make these Rat Queens into actual characters as opposed to instruments designed to riff on genre tropes.

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Image Previews Picks: July 2014

April 25, 2014

Letting creators like Brandon Graham fool around with the characters he created as part of the “Extreme Studios Relaunch” two years ago was only the second-most entertaining thing I’ve experienced from Rob Liefeld.  The most entertaining thing was when he let Alan Moore loose on his ersatz-Superman character Supreme and the legendary writer got to tell all of the stories he wanted to do about the Man of Steel only with the serial numbers filed off.  These stories were reprinted in two volumes from Checker Comics which are unfortunately out of print at the moment.  Why am I mentioning this?  That’s because a little over a week ago Image started passing around a “Supreme”-centric teaser which indicated that the character would be coming back.  As for the people who would be doing it, well, I don’t think anyone was expecting who we got…

(Unless you’ve already read the news last week, in which case that last bit has likely failed to instill any suspense at all.)

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Red Team vol. 1

April 24, 2014

If there’s one thing that Garth Ennis does better than most other writers whose work I buy based on their name alone, it’s that he knows how to properly tweak the tone of his stories to show the character types and story tropes he likes in a new light each time.  Think about how the violence in his early “Punisher” stories makes for hilarious slapstick, yet the same level of human cruelty comes off as utterly chilling in “Crossed.”  Ennis knows that everything in a story contributes to its tone and adjusts accordingly each time based on the tale he’s going to tell.  “Red Team” finds him in a serious mood again as he chronicles the exploits of four cops who cross the line when it comes to protecting the streets from the scum of the Earth.  Even if their story is bigger on telling than it is on showing and winds up in a familiar place, the route it takes to get there is thankfully free of obvious convention.

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Dark Horse Previews Picks: July 2014

April 23, 2014

While I talked about the news from the company out of Sakura-Con yesterday, the biggest news out of Wondercon over the weekend was about the long-awaited return of a certain dim-witted, undefeated barbarian.  That’s right, not only is the first issue of “Groo vs. Conan” finally shipping this month years after its initial announcement, but the Cheese-Dip Wanderer will be getting a twelve-issue maxiseries not too long afterwards.  Given that nearly all of the miniseries from Dark Horse featuring the character have been in the four-to-five issue range, one has to imagine that creators Mark Evarnier and Sergio Aragones are going to be clearing out the backlog of ideas they’ve had for him over the past few years.  Personally, I have no problem with that.  However, I’d still like to know when we can expect to see a “Groo Omnibus” collecting the issues that haven’t been published by Dark Horse.  Why?  Because fanboy wants are inexhaustible, that’s why.

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Dark Horse Manga at Sakura-Con

April 22, 2014

Wondercon wasn’t the only con being held this past weekend as Sakura-Con was also going on way up north of me in Washington.   Even though I’ve never been to the con or even in the state itself, it’s of importance to me for one key reason:  It’s the con where Dark Horse announces the latest manga they’ve licensed for release here in the U.S.  Given what I’ve been observing and writing about in regards to my perception of their state of affairs, I was hoping that we’d get some indication as to the imprint’s future from this panel.  While Anime News Network’s report on the panel at the convention didn’t provide total reassurance, it did lessen some of my fears.

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Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries vol. 3: The Great Corruption

April 21, 2014

Rick Remender’s run on “Uncanny X-Force” was successful enough that Marvel decided to follow up on it with not one, but two “X-Force” titles for their “Marvel NOW” initiative.  Though Sam Humphries’ “Uncanny X-Force” retained the name, we also got “Cable & X-Force” which brought the title character back with an incarnation of the team he’s most associated with.  Neither title really caught on sales-wise or with the critics, which is why they both wrapped up after crossing over and we’ve now got Si Spurrier giving us a new Cable-led “X-Force” team.

Though I’ve liked Humphries take on things, there’s been no doubt that it has lacked a defining premise for the entirety of its run.  Where the recent incarnations of “X-Force” were tasked with taking out the secret threats to mutantkind so that everyone else could sleep well at night, this version never really established what it was about.  It effectively functioned as a distaff “X-team” made up of characters that Humphries wanted to write, and even though it followed up on one particular plot thread from Remender’s run it inherited little else from it.  This isn’t to say that the title hasn’t had its moments so far, or that it hasn’t had a story to tell, just that its execution should’ve been more focused than what we got here.  Even so, everything wraps up here with a conclusion that basically works if you’re willing to not think too hard about what’s going on.

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