After introducing us to Forever Carlyle and her world in the first volume, writer Greg Rucka starts digging further into it with this new collection. We see her the rigorous training she underwent to become the Lazarus of Family Carlyle and how she employs those skills to avert a terrorist threat in the present day. Meanwhile, a family in Montana who has just lost everything to flooding heads to Denver where they hope to be uplifted to “Serf” status in Family Carlyle with all of the benefits that it entails. It’s the additional detail and insight that Rucka and artist Michael Lark provide for this world that they’ve created that continues to elevate it above its conventional foundation.
Unlike a lot of other publishers, Avatar doesn’t seem to place many restrictions on sexual or violent content in its titles. I imagine that kind of freedom is how they get writers like Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, David Lapham, Kieron Gillen, and Alan Moore to write comics for them. “No limits” is an appealing thing to any writer. However, too much sex and violence can either distract from the quality of the book at hand or come off like a crutch that the creator is using to tell their story. In the case of this volume from Lapham and artist Rafael Ortiz, these things are more of a distraction in the story of the title character who really can’t be harmed by anything. As a result, Dan leads a pretty carefree life on the streets of New York, doing odd jobs for the cash he needs and hanging out with his homeless friend Tober. This all changes when a girl named Chandra tells him that he’s a father to her, her sisters, and brother and that they’re all being hunted by a cult leader from L.A. It’s a big enough shock to give a man cancer, but Dan’s the kind of guy to take it all in stride and head over with Chan to the Sunshine State to help her out. Or something.
The title character is easily the best thing about this collection. Dan’s ultra-laid-back mindset in the face of all the book’s craziness -- people get their crotches punched through, orgies are had, we see a guy’s footlong leather-bound penis, there’s a girl with a sexual tooth fetish -- really does a lot to help keep things from flying completely off the rails. It also helps that he’s a basically decent, if occasionally thoughtless, guy at heart who happens to be completely unharmable. Unfortunately, Lapham keeps piles on the violence and “rape talk” in such a way that it significantly interferes with the book’s relaxed charms. Artist Ortiz gives Dan a great “shaggy dog” look and his work with the rest of the cast is similarly good, even if his storytelling is just alright. However, the artistic highlight of the book for me was the cover gallery at the back, as Dan’s nonchalant presence makes the covers work as parodies of the usual brand of torture porn you see on Avatar covers. Between this and his work on “Crossed,” I really don’t think that Lapham makes the best use of the freedom he’s offered by the publisher. Even though I liked seeing Dan shrug and stumble through this case, this probably would’ve worked better at an imprint like Vertigo where a little restraint could’ve gone a long way here.
After the first volume I couldn’t wait to read the conclusion to Cap’s adventures in Dimension Z! Now that I’ve read it… well… it’s not quite on the same level Maybe if it hadn’t started off with a terminally silly scene where Arnim Zola’s tachyon kung-fu powerhouse daughter Jet Black monologues about how much she wants Cap to bang her Cap stirs these strange feelings in her I’d feel differently. Yet that’s not the only problem with this collection. After Ian was kidnapped by Zola at the end of the previous volume, he’s subjected to the mad scientist’s brainwashing and turned against the adopted father who raised him. If you think you know how this is going to play out, then you’re probably right. Then you’ve got the surprise return of one of Cap’s closest allies in a way that makes her really unlikeable, to put it mildly.
Now that all that’s out of the way, it’s time to back up and start talking about what this volume does right. Between Remender’s writing and John Romita Jr.’s art, there’s a tremendous amount of energy infecting the proceedings on the page. Even as Cap’s list of injuries start to defy belief, you can’t help but be caught up in the action as it escalates to catastrophic levels. As Romita Jr.’s swan song at Marvel before heading over to DC, his work here has him leaving on a high note. The work he and Remender did setting up Cap’s relationship with Ian in the previous volume also pays dividends here as I was still invested in the predictable conflict they engaged in here with this volume. Even Cap’s “final” words to his adopted son managed to come off as heartfelt rather than sentimental. Same goes for the ending which finds the character having saved the world yet again at a tremendous cost to himself. No, this second volume doesn’t live up to the intense excitement offered by the first, but it still shows us that Remender’s “Captain America” is a title well worth reading.
Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's assemblage of famous literary figures starts out fantastic, then becomes really weird while still being pretty good.
In case you had any doubts that Hickman’s two “Avengers” titles were different sides to the same story, this volume will put them to rest. So if you’ve been putting off reading “New Avengers” for some reason -- and the monthly sales numbers tell me that there are a lot of you -- then consider this a wake-up call. Yes, there are some issues with the main story here, but they’re worth putting up with for the moments that show the writer’s master plan coming together.
The main conflict between the humans and the Gauna isn’t advanced by all that much in this volume, but we do get some interesting new developments. Or rather, a development that brings several complications along with it. After the success of the human/Gauna hybrid Tsumugi, Kunato and the rest of his team have been working on a second hybrid. His name is Kanata, and he’s a bit more unruly than his predecessor which causes problems when the team tries to use him as a weapon. On one hand, it’s easy to criticize Kunato and co. for taking a more domineering approach to this hybrid’s development after they managed to get things right with Tsumugi. The previous hybrid, however, didn’t have a formerly theoretical planet-killing super-laser embedded in her head, so their strictness with Kanata is understandable to a certain extent. It does lead to some minor changes in the status quo aboard Sidonia, after the laser goes off during a Gauna attack and furthers the moral ambiguity we’ve seen in the captain’s actions when she makes her intentions regarding this new hybrid known in the wake of the accident. Though these developments are intriguing, it’s not hard to see that they’re going to lead to some very bad things happening to the ship and its crew down the line.
As for the rest of the volume, it’s filled with silliness. The stuff I described above mainly takes up the middle part of this collection and there’s a lot of goofiness on either side of it. Take the “tentacle monster” that we see menacing the girls in the shower that eventually ties in with the arrival of a new kotatsu in Tanikaze’s place and a beatdown inflicted on the Honoka Twins, Ren and En, by the dorm matron, Ms. Hiyama. (Did I ever mention that she’s also a bear in these reviews? Well, now you know that she is.) Then there’s Izana’s grandmother who, when she’s not trying to keep Kanata under control, likes to relive her youth by going out in clothes that look like they came from one of mangaka Tsutomu Nihei’s other series. She also prompts Tanikaze to research key cultural assets with her granddaughter by threatening to detonate a micro-explosive she placed in his spine. While this is clearly a lie, Tanikaze is thick-headed enough to take it seriously and completely miss the implication that this is a scheme of hers to set the two of them up together. All of these scenes are more on the charming side of silly because they spring from and provide further insight into the characters’ personalities. This has the added effect of making me realize that Nihei has also done a good job of developing his cast over these ten volumes that such events come off as endearing rather than annoying.
A few months back, I wrote (briefly) about the first volume of a series called “Five Weapons.” Essentially it was “Harry Potter” with child assassins standing in for child magicians, and whether or not it worked for you all came down to how hard you didn’t want to think about the incongruity of that premise. Now we have the first volume of writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig’s “Deadly Class” which has a similar premise, but with a darker tone that’s better suited for the material. It tells the story of Marcus Arguello, a homeless kid living on the streets of San Francisco, who has nothing going for him until he wanders into an assassination gone wrong. After surviving the experience, he finds himself recruited into the Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts to be trained as an assassin for the most ruthless crime families in the world. As befitting such an occupation, the experience is structured much like high school with its schedule, cliques, and harassment in the shower -- all the better to turn its students into vicious killers.
In what may turn out to be a long-term problem for the series, the most interesting parts of “Deadly Class” are the ones that don’t directly revolve around Kings Dominion and its stated mission. Things like seeing Marcus’ time on the streets and the acid-fueled trip he takes to Vegas with some of his classmates do a good job of illustrating his character and making him into a sympathetic lead. The Vegas trip also provides a wealth of teen drama to chew on, and I find that stuff much easier to take when it’s accompanied by drugs, guns, knives, and an appropriate level of violence. (See also: “Battle Royale.”) It also provides an incredible psychedelic showcase for Craig, whose work has been solid up to this point, as he pulls out all of the surreal visual stops for Marcus’ experience. Much as I’m interested in seeing how the character adapts to life at Kings Dominion, the school itself doesn’t feel completely fleshed out at this point and the character meant to act as Marcus’ main antagonist feels like he walked in from another comic entirely. This first volume isn’t a bad debut for the series, but there’s still work to be done to make it a truly good title in the volumes that will follow.