Well, here we are with the next-to-last volume of this series. Bill Willingham’s “fairytale characters in the modern world” title has proven to be a remarkably durable and consistently entertaining one over the past decade. Now all he, regular artist Mark Buckingham, and artistic collaborators like Russ Braun, Barry Kitson, and Steve Leialoha is stick the landing in the end. Given how things for “Fables” have gone so far, I’m not as concerned about that as I would be for other creator-owned titles. Remember: consistency. The only concern I have with this volume is that Willingham and co. may be piling too much onto their plates here to satisfactorily resolve in the final ten issues of this title.
Contrary to what the title implies, there will be no escaping to “the badger state” in this volume. What does happen is Dana Cypress, police officer and related either directly or tangentially to pretty much every plot thread and conspiracy in this series, is headhunted by the FBI for a trip to New York as they have reason to believe that a Revival has made its way out there. Meanwhile, back in Rothschild, Dana’s sister Martha gets involved with a Revival who injures himself to make funny webcam videos, her father Wayne butts heads with anti-government right-winger Edmund Holt and winds up being coerced by the mayor into helping him with his problems, and her son Coop won’t stop talking about the “glowing man” outside his room. Then you’ve got other running subplots like Lester Majak’s efforts to take revenge on the “glowing man” that killed his dog, Ibrahim’s run-in with a fortune teller and its deadly fallout, and May’s attempt to get her life back in order. If that wasn’t enough, the town is also paid a visit by the F.D.A.’s own Tony Chu.
In case it wasn’t obvious, there’s a lot going on in this volume and it’s all pretty interesting compared to what has come before. Writer Tim Seeley has done a better job in making the supernatural and character-driven elements work more smoothly together, particularly in the New York-centric parts. Given the FBI’s involvement, you’d think that Seeley was attempting to write his own “X-Files” episode; and, it turned out to be a pretty good one. There are also plenty of interesting developments back in the town itself, to the point where I think that giving this series a re-read at some point may be justified. Artist Mike Norton also makes a better showing here with his character work, but also with the more macabre bits of the story. Particularly with all of the “skin dancing” bits of the “Revival/Chew” crossover story collected here. While the banter between Tony, Dana, and Ibrahim is good, adding Tony’s cibopathic powers here feels at odds with the kind of weirdness we’ve come to expect from “Revival” itself. I don’t feel truly passionate about this series yet, though this volume has me thinking that it might be possible in the future.
There really isn’t anything that I won’t buy from Garth Ennis. When you’ve been writing good comics for as long as he has, the expectation that I’ll be disappointed by one of them is close to nil. I’d even read “Spawn” if he were to become the next writer on it. (Which is to say “Sorry, Brian Wood.” I’ll consider picking up his “E.V.E.: Valkyrie” series, though.) With that in mind, when he says that his new series will be about talking dogs and the end of the world, my only question is “When is the trade paperback coming out?” Now that it’s here, I can say that it’s an interesting failure. “Rover Red Charlie” is the result of the writer trying to work outside his usual comfort zone with mixed results.
Not yet, anyway. I say this because news recently broke that Robert Downey Jr. would be reprising his role as Tony Stark in “Captain America 3,” which would serve as the start of the “Civil War” arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not quite a done deal, as the report says that he’s on the verge of signing. Given the hurdles that have been surmounted to get to this point -- the cost of getting Downey Jr. to reprise his role, notorious skinflint and Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter’s initial rejection of such cost -- I’d be extremely surprised if things fell apart at this point. Then again, I’d also be kind of glad as this isn’t the kind of story that needs to be immortalized in film at this point in Marvel’s cinematic offerings.
What do you do with a kid who has spent all of his life (and twenty-eight volumes of manga) witnessing his dad cut down everyone he challenged, and who challenged him? If you’re Satsuma samurai Togo Shigekata, you start training the boy to become a warrior worthy of his father. Given the circumstances, it actually makes a certain amount sense in this series because how else would you have young Daigoro deal with everything he saw while growing up. Better to train him on how to focus this trauma than let it destroy him after he becomes old enough to process it. These were the most interesting moments in this volume and further help this series distinguish itself from its predecessor. Some more direct scenes involving the iconic baby cart of the title do the same in a visually distinct manner later on.
My main complaint from the first volume still remains, however. The villainous plot that Shigekata unknowingly finds himself embroiled in still doesn’t feel all that involving. Some steps are taken to give the samurai a more personal investment in it, as his quest to deliver the missive of a dying man is called out during an interrogation as being the result of manipulation by the bad guys. If Shigekata does succeed in being manipulated here, seeing how he deals with it could be interesting. Meanwhile, we’re treated to the antics of a bald karate master and crossdressing ninja as they try to separate the new “Lone Wolf” from his “Cub.” While it’s interesting to observe the battle of wills that takes place between the karate master and Daigoro, I’m hoping to see more action from the ninja because she just winds up being needlessly sexualized here. It’s an unflattering (but not unexpected -- this is manga written by Kazuo Koike after all) move that sticks out amongst some otherwise beautiful art from Hideki Mori. Even if “New Lone Wolf and Cub” has yet to justify its existence, it at least manages to be decently readable in the meantime.
I wasn’t expecting much from this spinoff of the Paul Pope graphic novel it shares part of its name with. After all, it’s only co-written by him with a couple of people I’ve never heard of providing additional writing and the art. JT Petty and David Rubin, as co-writer and artist (respectively), actually do wind up providing us with a solid adventure that helps flesh out the subtitle character, her father, and the city of Arcopolis. Even if she’s still learning the ropes, Aurora still proves to be a very capable fighter as she holds her own on nightly battles against the city’s monsters with her father Haggard West and balances training and school during the day. Aurora’s a very sympathetic character as well, who lost her mother in a mysterious accident at an early age. Though the trail for that ran cold for her father years ago, new evidence suggests that it may have ties to her old imaginary friend, Mr. Wurple. This may seem silly, bordering on ridiculous, but Pope and Petty do an excellent job fleshing out the father/mother/daughter dynamic of the West family through flashbacks and revealing to us how the death of Rosetta West still haunts the primary cast to this day.
There’s also the fact that the world of “Battling Boy” is still one very much versed in the conventions of superhero fiction, and “Aurora West” doesn’t try to duck out on its legacy. We get plenty of fighting between the Wests and the various gangs of monsters in Arcopolis as they make plans for some new invention that will finally give them the upper hand. Though this might sound very grim, seriousness is only injected when it’s appropriate. Most of the time the tone is light, even tongue-in-cheek with things like Haggards “throw her in at the deep end” style of training his daughter complete with lines like, “No jetpacks until you’re eighteen.” This is all well and good, but the volume stumbles with Rubin’s art. Though he’s a good storyteller with an energetic style, it’s also one that channel’s Pope’s to a distracting extent. You can see bits of Rubin’s own style breaking out in some of the monster designs, except that most of the time I wound up thinking, “That looks like Pope, but it’s not quite right.”
Even with this issue, the rest of “Aurora West” was strong enough to make for a more entertaining read than I was expecting. It’s also impossible not to at least like a superhero story where, when faced with a surprise monster attack and without any of their gear, trainer Ms. Grately asks Haggard if he has any weapons and his response in the next panel is to put up his dukes. The second volume of “Battling Boy” is scheduled to arrive sometime in 2015 with the next “Aurora West” following later. If they wind up having to switch dates because Pope needs some more time to get the second volume of the former just right, I won’t be too disappointed based on what we were given here.
As Jason Aaron’s returned to creator-owned work after the excellent “Scalped,” I should’ve been really excited about this title. However, in all of the solicitation text and previews I read about “Southern Bastards” I never really got a good sense of what it was about. Yes, I was planning on buying it because of Aaron’s involvement, but I’d be doing so without a real understanding of what I was getting into. Now that I’ve read through the first volume, I see that it’s a very conventional story in the vein of “Walking Tall” as one ornery southern bastard tries to bring justice back to his hometown. The execution is still good enough to make it a worthwhile experience, and the end makes me hope that the writer is setting things up for a more interesting story to be told in future volumes.
If you go into this expecting a particularly brutal kind of slasher movie, then I guess you’ll be satisfied. Mike Wolfer takes over full scripting duties from Garth Ennis with this second volume, and tries expanding on the mythos and reach of the title creatures. This is done through the machinations of an unsavory trader named Salib who managed to get his hands on some of the Stitched before the army wiped out the slaver camp from the previous novel’s climax with a missile strike. He’s planning to sell them, and a mysterious drum he found along with these things, to the highest bidder. That turns out to be a rich old Englishman in Sri Lanka. The trip there is notable for the fact that U.S. special forces squad winds up being assigned to take out Salib before he can get there. All I’ll say about their efforts is that the predictably bloody results of this attack set the tone for the rest of the comic, for better or for worse.
That’s because most of the action centers on the various characters being shot, stabbed, and dismembered in a variety of ways that seem to be catered more towards appeasing gorehounds than actual storytelling. Wolfer’s execution of all this is competent enough, and artist Fernando Heinz Furukawa is at least on the same page as him when it comes to this kind of stuff. Don’t expect any surprises, though, even when to explaining a possible origin for the Stitched. It involves the British colonization of India, a demon, and a woman who wouldn’t die and had to be sealed away forever. For what it’s worth, it’s a decent enough little horror story even if it is ruined afterwards by “the last of the black, festering, rage-filled sentient semen of a demon from Hell.” Yeah. This is a thing in the series now. If everything here sounds like your idea of a good time, then you’re welcome to it. As for me, I think I’ll be giving vol. 3 a pass if I ever see it in one of the half-off boxes at a convention.
While a new volume of “B.P.R.D.” is always a reason to get excited, this one promised to be something special. Not only was it going to involve the organization taking the fight to ZinCo after all these years along with this latest incarnation of the Black Flame, but the setup for this was handled expertly as well. I was expecting another volume along the lines of “The Return of the Master” that fully advanced the main story while being an exciting read in and of itself. That’s… not quite what we get here. There’s still lots to enjoy about this collection, but “The Reign of the Black Flame” stumbles in a couple key areas.