Wolverine: Origin II

August 31, 2014

Back in that period of time we like to call the “early aughts,” Marvel put out a miniseries called “Wolverine:  Origin” that would explore Ol’ Canucklehead’s earliest days.  It wasn’t done out of a desire to answer the many longstanding questions regarding the character’s origin, but to beat Hollywood to the punch after the success of the first “X-Men” film signaled the start of a franchise based on Marvel’s Merry Mutants with Logan emerging, quite naturally thanks to Hugh Jackman’s performance, as its breakout character.  After going through a few writers, the company settled on Paul Jenkins (with plot contributions from Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada) to write the miniseres and Andy Kubert to illustrate it.  The final product sold really well, but didn’t please everyone.  I was one of the people who did like it, as it felt like an actual story and managed to work in its character-defining moments in a way that didn’t feel forced.

While follow-ups to this tale were promised -- the idea being that the “Origin” series would take the character all the way up to his Weapon X days -- further explorations of Wolverine’s past, it has taken us until now to get a proper follow-up courtesy of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Adam Kubert.  This is a team who, based on their previous works, I’d buy anything from.  The result of their collaboration here is a solidly good exploration of Wolverine’s character and his first encounter with the man who would go on to be his lifelong nemesis:  Victor Creed.

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Murder Me Dead

August 30, 2014

In the category of “reprinted crime comics from David Lapham” that has sprung up this year, the “Stray Bullets:  Uber Alles” edition is what you should spend your hard-earned money on.  The forty-one issues it collects detail a rambling, surprising, sometimes terrifying, always compelling narrative about a disparate group of runaways, killers, thugs, and crazies that stands as one of the best things I’ve read all year.  “Murder Me Dead”...  Not so much, but it also stands as a great example of Lapham’s talent.  The story itself kicks off with jazz pianist Steve Russell dispassionately regarding the suicide of his wife, Eve, by hanging from the ceiling fan in their home.  Theirs had not been a good marriage and in the wake of Eve’s death, Steve find himself the target of scorn from the staff of the club she ran and he played at, and an investigation from a private eye hired by his wife’s family to find out what role he had in her death.  It’s not all bad for Steve, as a chance encounter with an old friend leads him to a high school classmate he had a thing for but never acted on.  Is Steve’s relationship with this woman, Tara Torres, his last shot at happiness or a final fling before the curtain is called down on his life?

As Lapham notes in his introduction, “Murder Me Dead” was inspired by the film noirs of the 30’s to 50’s and his desire to do a modern take on their style.  So if you’ve got a little familiarity with the likes of “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Third Man,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” and “Touch of Evil,” then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the writer/artist is going for here along with how things are ultimately going to play out.  That said, even if you do have a pretty good idea of how bad things are going to get for Steve it’s still pretty likely that you’ll enjoy the narrative’s many twists and turns.  Steve may be no angel, but he’s a better guy than you’d expect, while Tara is undoubtedly one of the most brittle femme fatales I’ve ever read about.  The two leads are also supported by a memorable supporting cast that is fleshed out in ways both unexpected and memorable.  Lapham’s art is meticulous in its detail and panel arrangement, and he uses both to amp up the tension and fix your interest on the page when the action heats up.  Most striking is the bravura flashback sequence made up of two-panel pages in the story’s last chapter where key secrets are revealed.  Masterful execution of scenes like that elevate the story and make it one you’ll want to see through to the end, regardless of whether or not you know how it’ll all end.

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Hip Hop Family Tree vols. 1 & 2

August 29, 2014

I liked Ed Piskor’s “Wizzywig” well enough, but the fictional narrative he created to serve as a backbone for his exploration of hacker tech and culture came off as underdeveloped and very predictable.  For his latest project, the writer/artist has chosen to work exclusively in the realm of nonfiction to explore the origins of hip hop and its key creative forces.  The change in focus is mostly for the better as even though I’ve had little interest in this kind of music over the years, the story of its origins is fascinating to see unfold.  From DJ Kool Herc’s breakthrough in looping breaks together, to the block-wide blackout that allowed new DJs to spring up overnight with newly appropriated tech, to the MacGyver-esque creation of the Mighty Mighty Sasquatch sound system, and the Grandmaster Flash-backed local military send-off jam that gave us the term “hip hop” Piskor’s exhaustive unpacking of the music’s origins is fascinating to see unfold.  Seeing these ordinary (at first) people create a new style of music and culture from the ground up is invigorating and helps transcend the book’s appeal beyond its source material.

What keeps these volumes from being completely engrossing is likely down to the way they were originally published.  This series was originally serialized (and continues to be) at Boing Boing with a few pages going up every week.  While I imagine that reading the pages at each update makes for a nice self-contained experience, going through them all at once here reveals that there’s no real organization or narrative tying them all together.  The stories jump around from character to character at random making it very hard for any momentum to develop between strips or to get invested in the plight of its cast.  Also:  The boxed set of these two volumes I picked up at Comic-Con has its good and bad points.  What makes it worth picking up is that it comes with a bonus comic by Piskor that shows us Rob Liefeld’s hip-hop connection with Spike Lee and Eazy-E.  Not only does it have the focused narrative that these two volumes lack, Piskor draws the whole thing in Liefeld’s style for added hilarity.  That being said, there were numerous printing errors in my copy of the two volumes from this set.  So either I was very unlucky with the copy I got, or Fantagraphics is going to have a lot of angry customers to deal with when this set hits retail in October.  Hopefully these issues get fixed before then, because these volumes are great, if unfocused, reads and the Liefeld makes the package a great deal.

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Uncanny Avengers vol. 3: Ragnarok Now

August 28, 2014

We saw the setup for this epic storyline in the previous volume, and now the narrative barrels on full steam ahead.  It’s the Avengers Unity squad vs. The Apocalypse Twins and their horsemen for the fate of Earth itself.  This arc recently concluded in serialized form after eighteen issues -- a virtual eternity in today’s market -- and we see here that every one of those issues is likely to be necessary to the story.  Death and destruction abound here, but there’s meaning to it all that adds weight to the epic scale writer Rick Remender is working with here.

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MPD-Psycho vol. 11

August 27, 2014

Back in April when vol. 14 of “Eden:  It’s An Endless World!” came out, I went back and re-read the previous volume to refresh my memory and provide some context for this new one.  Not only did it give me a chance to re-read one of the better volumes in the series, that context came in handy for vol. 14.  With results like that, the logical thing to do here would’ve been to go back and re-read vol. 10 of “MPD-Psycho” in advance of this one. ...But that would require me to care more about this series than I actually do.  This series descended into latter-season “X-Files” levels of conspiratorial murk long before it started enjoying multi-year-long waits between volumes and my interest declined accordingly.  It hasn’t become actively awful enough to get me to stop reading, and the previous volume even managed to be a decent somewhat self-contained read.  However, I freely admit that my main reason for continuing to read it is to show Dark Horse that there is an audience for the manga titles that they release on such an irregular basis.

As for the volume itself, it’s alright.  The story which runs through it, “Dead Man’s Galaxy Days,” is a flashback to a time before the series started.  So we get to see what detective Yosuke Kobayashi and his other personality, psycho scumbag Shinji Nishizono, were up to before their lives got even weirder.  Of course, we see here that they were plenty weird to begin with.  Cannibal rabbits.  Teenagers with desires to be cut into two.  Identical twins killing each other to determine who is the “real” one.  The personality of a crazed cult-killer hiding out in an unsuspecting man’s mind.  There’s plenty of intriguing weirdness here, along with some gruesomely creative killing rendered in artist Sho-u Tajima’s stylish art.  However, all of the revelations offered up by writer Eiji Otsuka fall flat mainly due to my apathy for this series and the fact that the volume-long arc lacks focus or a proper sense of pacing to keep the reader’s interest.  Maybe once the series sees its last volume released in English, it’ll stand revealed as a mind-blowing genre masterpiece.  At the rate it’s going, I won’t be able to find out the answer to that question until I’ve reached retirement age (assuming I continue to wait and read it through legal channels).  Instead, I’ll stick with Otsuka’s other irregularly-published Dark Horse manga -- “The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service” -- as its episodic style is far more engaging and better suited to its release schedule.

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Gantz vol. 32

August 26, 2014

Now here’s something we haven’t seen in a while:  Moments in “Gantz” that actually invoke feelings beyond simple excitement or suspense.  Things kick off with a young brother and sister trying to cope with the fact that they’re about to be “processed” at one of the alien factories.  Mangaka Hiroya Oku singles them out amongst the crowd of other humans and manages to really make you feel for the plight of these kids who are even less well-equipped to deal with their plight than those around them.  Then you’ve got Sakurai, the psychic, who’s on a revenge bender after his girlfriend was killed by the aliens.  While all of the monsters he’s killed up to this point have been trying to kill him as well, now he has to face the realization that he’s become the murderer now.  Whether or not he’s able to come back from this… well, that’ll be interesting to see.  Then we have Nishi, who actually displays a thought beyond his own self-interest.  I can’t say that his actions here redeem him from his schoolroom slaughter several volumes back, but it at least makes me amenable to the idea of him dying a heroic death.

As for the efforts of the various Gantz members in their fight against the aliens, an interesting twist is served up in this volume.  I won’t say what it is, but it certainly throws a wrench into their plans as the aliens seek to make them the bad guys in this conflict.  Then you’ve got Tae’s ongoing “Perils of Paulene”-esque plight through the city.  While she survives the curiosity of the alien mom, the girl still has to deal with curious little alien girls, and surviving a hunt after being baited in.  Toss in the aliens we see in a new area at the end of the volume, and you have even more signs that “Gantz” is back on the right track after a long stretch of mediocrity.  Yeah, the best it can hope for at the end at this point is, “It’s good, even though it starts to suck after vol. 20 -- but it eventually gets better towards the end.”  Yet it appears the series has managed the difficult trick of pulling itself out of the hole it made.  Is it a momentary trick or a sustainable trend?  I want to believe it’s the latter.

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An Open Letter to Brian Michael Bendis

August 25, 2014

Dear Brian,

Hello.  I’m writing to you as a longtime fan of your works.  Not only is “Jinx” one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, the many other series you’ve been involved with over the years has basically turned me into a completist when it comes to your writing.  The quality of books like “Goldfish,” “Torso,” “Daredevil,” “New Avengers,” “Alias,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “Fortune & Glory,” and “Powers” has shown me that whenever you’re listed as a writer of a particular comic I’m almost certainly assured of a good time.  While your current work on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” and the always ongoing “Ultimate Spider-Man” has been fun, it seems that your commitments to these titles (along with your involvement in various film and TV projects) is coming at the expense of your creator-owned work.  I realize that you have your obligations to the big companies that are paying you to write their titles, but the way in which your creator-owned series are being published flies in the face of logic.


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Marvel Previews Picks: November 2014

August 24, 2014

It would appear that the cost of doing business with Marvel is going up.  Specifically, in the main way that I do it with them.  Bleeding Cool reports that three upcoming trade paperbacks from Marvel, “Thor:  God of Thunder vol. 3:  The Accursed,” “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Bendis vol. 5,” and “Avengers vol. 4:  Infinity,” will be sold at $20 instead of their previously advertised prices of $17, $18, and $16, respectively.  This is disappointing news, but not entirely unexpected.  Several of Marvel’s trade paperbacks already retail for $20, and that “Wolverine” comic I wrote about last night will set you back $25 for its seven issues.  (So as an addendum to that review, it’ll really be of interest only to people who are already existing fans of the character.)  Essentially, I’m not surprised that Marvel is raising their prices like this since the market has shown that they can sell these paperbacks at that price point.  The real test will be when they start selling an average comic book at $5 with no extra pages.  I don’t think there’s any way the market will take kindly to that particular development.

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Wolverine by Paul Cornell (vol. 3): Three Months to Die — Book I

August 23, 2014

If Cornell’s previous volume was the breaking down of the character, then this is the start of building him back up.  Right?  Wrong.  With Wolverine’s death only months away, that was just the setup for the destruction of his self and morality as things kick off here with the revelation that he has joined a group of criminals and is now willing to kill innocent undercover reporters to show how far he’s fallen.  Anyone who believes that may also be interested in meeting my friend, the Prince of Nigeria, for a token sum (just send me your bank account info by e-mail).  Even if this is a big trick, Cornell is a very crafty writer and he makes the unpacking of it pretty interesting to watch.  Lots of bridge-burning on Logan’s part is involved, along with an effective use of the Superior Spider-Man.  More impressive is that the writer does a good job of getting us to care about Wolverine’s new partners in crime as their fates are far less certain than the title character’s and will likely provide most of the drama in the next volume.

However, with “The Death of Wolverine” almost upon us, what I’ve read here and elsewhere has actually done a pretty good idea of selling me on the idea beyond its existence as a sales-boosting gimmick.  Logan having his ass handed to him by Sabretooth in the previous volume was bad enough, but the way he cuts his ties with his fellow X-Men in this volume only grinds him down further.  Then you consider what Rick Remender is doing with the character over in “Uncanny Avengers” (picked up vol. 3 at Comic-Con -- will be talking about it later this week), and raking him over the coals with his reliance on killing as a problem solving tool.  Bringing back his son Daken to call him on that is an extremely effective way of doing this, and it also has the side effect of making Jason Aaron’s similarly themed “Wolverine’s Revenge” look extremely misguided in retrospect.  Do we really want a Wolverine who has murdered (a lot of) his kids running around pretending to be a hero without accounting for such a thing at all?  I think that his death, should it be sufficiently heroic enough, may serve that function and as a way to get the character away from these kinds of destructive developments.  We’ll find out soon enough if it has the potential to work.

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Image Previews Picks: November 2014

August 22, 2014

It turns out that there really weren’t any hard feelings between J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith after a communications breakdown and personal issues led the latter to drop out of illustrating “Ten Grand” after issue #4.  Templesmith will be providing an alternate cover to issue #10 of Straczynski’s “Protectors, Inc.”  So it would seem that the promise of new work from the two may not be as far-fetched as originally thought.  Whatever they do will likely be after Templesmith has finished his commitments to “Gotham by Midnight,” however.

Then again, it’ll probably happen sooner than something like this.  My opinion is that someone figured it’d be fun to troll Johnston with the information.  Surely Morrison has better things to do than to waste his time on a character like that?

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