Yesterday, I talked about a comic that did an awful job of managing the transition between story arcs. When you’ve been working on one story for as long as “Girl Genius” has, there needs to be some time to step back, decompress, and take stock of things or else you wind up burning the audience out after keeping things running at full steam for so long. Now, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are facing a similar situation with this latest volume of “The Walking Dead.” After a few volumes of buildup, things escalated into twelve issues of “All Out War” between Rick and Negan’s camps and resulted in another high point for the series. So how do you follow up something like that? Kirkman and Adlard show us exactly how such a transition should be handled, and give us a really clever take on an old genre staple in the process.
The good news: After six years and seven volumes, the “Mechanicsburg” arc of this series has finally wrapped up. Though utterly interminable in the length of its serialization, the arc was not without its moments of wild imagination and smashing humor. Now for the bad news: Nothing seems to have been accomplished with its end. With a story that has gone on for this long and incurred so many changes and complications to its cast and story, you’d think that now would be the time for creators Phil and Kaja Foglio to dial things back a bit and start taking stock of everything that has transpired in the series over the years. That doesn’t happen here. No sooner than the Siege of Mechanicsburg is broken, Agatha is thrust a short ways into the future and the next major arc of the series.
While I can understand the Foglio’s desire to keep the momentum of their title going, it feels like they’ve made a major miscalculation in how it should be done. Putting Agatha at the mercy (however short-lived) of an ass like Martellus von Blitzengaard fosters nothing but irritation, as does the revelation of the fate of Mechanicsburg after the time-jump. If that was the plan for the city all along, then what was the point of the multi-volume siege of it? In short, the transition from the previous arc to the current arc is genuinely awful and left me wondering if the Foglios had finally lost the thread for their signature series. (My annoyance is magnified by the fact that, like the previous volume, I participated in the Kickstarter for this one.) I will say that after that mangled transition, the narrative does become more focused and offers a clear direction for the series from here on out. There’s also that last-page twist that sets up an interesting dynamic for Agatha and Gil in the future. I’m not about to write the series off yet, but that could change depending on how the next volume plays out.
Maybe not the last podcast I do for Dark Horse's "Star Wars" titles, but I offer my thoughts on the final two volumes of Brian Wood's "Star Wars," the concluding volume of "Legacy vol. II," and Matt Kindt's "Rebel Heist."
There’s a good piece over at “Comics Alliance” by Juliet Kahn about how Sam Wilson’s tenure as the new “Captain America” and Female Thor are essentially gimmicks that only represent the illusion of progress and will likely be reversed in two years or so. Go ahead and read it, her piece is very well thought out and positive in its outlook. What she left out, however, was that these changes don’t have to be gimmicks. There is a simple, yet extremely difficult way to ensure that Sam Wilson as “Captain America” and New Thor stick around for as long as necessary to become the defining versions of their characters.
What is this way? Get 300,000 people to start reading their ongoing titles on a regular basis. Make them the best-selling comics in the industry by a wide enough margin that Marvel will want to keep this particular change going as long as they possibly can. If they ever decide to revert back to Steve Rogers and Male Thor, then people should vote with their wallets and stop reading. If anyone wants to give this a try, consider this: It may be easier to find 300,000 people willing to promote gender and racial diversity for $8 a month than 300,000 dedicated comics readers. Something to consider.
So I guess you can call “Gantz’s” return to being a title I actually look forward to a sustainable trend with this volume. I will admit that it doesn’t do this in as dramatic a fashion as I had hoped. More like, there are a lot of little moments here that either prove to be memorable or help tick the plot forward in a noticeable way. Things like seeing little Takeshi (unwittingly) troll Nishi by calling him a “Good person,” after the teen saves the boy’s life made me chuckle. Watching Kei finally (FINALLY) achieve his long-awaited reunion with Tae was both immensely satisfying, and a little nerve-wracking too. After all, there are still four volumes left to go -- will their happily ever after last that long? Other things help flesh out the world of the aliens. We get to see the aliens toy with Tae at their hunting grounds and thrill to seeing the humans fight the strange creatures in the city’s bowels. There’s also one genuinely disturbing development in the form of an alien parasite that causes growths of yourself to burst out of your skull. Take my word for it, it’s creepy. Then you’ve got bits like the revelation about what happened to the other Gantz teams that tried to assault the ship and the glimpses into what’s going on outside the ship as the humans react to news of our protagonists and their battles. They help broaden the scope of the conflict and further illustrate its stakes as well.
There’s also plenty of fighting as the Gantz teams we’ve been following take on a lot of different creatures, finding creative ways to kill them that are also dictated by necessity. Mangaka Hiroya Oku has always been great with the action in this series, and his skill there is what kept me reading even in its darkest moments. The problem here is that most of the combat here feels pointless, it doesn’t really serve any purpose to the overall plot. “Gantz” started off as a series where humans with special tech fought against strange aliens with their own skills, so it’s not hard to see that Oku is simply continuing the tradition here. It’s an unnecessary act that pads the existing narrative and nothing more. I’d have traded all of the fighting here for more scenes detailing just how the aliens are managing the peace they’ve manufactured with Earth’s governments, or even seeing Takeshi and Nishi’s awkward and potentially very misguided attempts at bonding. Just a little more focus on what the important parts of the story are would do this title some real good as it heads into its home stretch.
Brian Azzarello has taken Wonder Woman on a unique journey over the course of his tenure as the writer of her ongoing series. Eschewing nearly all connections to the DC Universe at large, he’s embraced the character’s mythological side and given us a modern tale of the wrath and pettiness of the Greek gods pitted against a character who embraces neither of these things. It has made for a lot of good drama over the course of the writer’s run, with things taking an interesting turn after Wonder Woman assumed the mantle of the God of War in the previous volume. Those of you expecting to see how the title character reacts to her new position may be surprised at how conventional her arc turns out to be here even as things are effectively moved into place for the finale of Azzarello’s run.
An issue of “The Walking Dead” topped the sales charts in October, the first time it has done that this year. However, unlike the previous times issues of this title hit #1, it wasn’t due to an anniversary issue or mass of variant covers. No, this time it was all thanks to Loot Crate and the additional 150K to 200K copies of issue #132 that were included in that month’s shipment. This isn’t the first time Loot Crate has helped a title sell an extra hundred thousand copies. The first issue of Marvel’s “Rocket Raccoon” title sold over 300K copies in its first month thanks to the company including it in one of their previous shipments. It’s clear from these numbers that Loot Crate represents a valuable marketing tool and source of good buzz for comics companies. Does including these issues in a Loot Crate result in increased sales down the line? I’m thinking the answer is “No,” given how “Rocket’s” sales have crashed down to more earthbound numbers since its debut. Still, expect to see lots of other companies working with Loot Crate in the next year to give their titles a boost.
Because you can only have your protagonist faceplant into a girl’s crotch so many times before it starts to get old…
Anime News Network reports that “The Shinji Ikari Raising Project” will be ending with vol. 18 next year. (Man, where was this when I was looking for something interesting to use as a lead-in to yesterday’s post?) To which I can only say, “It’s about goddamn time!” While the series initially started off as a fun riff on the characters of the seminal anime series being thrust into a school setting, it has since devolved into, well… crap. Not even Carl Horn’s localization skills, nor the book’s gloriously irreverent version of Gendo Ikari could elevate the past few volumes and their use of rote, tired comedy cliches. I’m honestly impressed that the series has lasted as long as it did, but you’ll find few brands as durable as “Evangelion” in manga or anime these days. People really will buy just about anything from this franchise and I’m sure the series’ mangaka Osamu Takahashi has appreciated the steady work the title has afforded him for the past decade.
I realize that I’m guilty of subsidizing such mediocrity with each volume of this series that I buy. Yet with the end in sight, I’m thinking maybe I should just ride it out, re-read the series once Dark Horse finishes publishing it, and then do a podcast to close off the whole bloody stump of the affair. It is interesting to note that the series has been the company’s most successful new title in a while given that vol. 15 will be out next month and a couple volumes have even managed to top the New York Times’ manga bestseller list. I imagine such success is why they keep bringing over manga spun off from popular anime regardless of its quality. This stuff sells, but I’ve yet to read one that approaches the quality of Dark Horse’s own licensed work. At this point, I’d trade all of “The Shinji Ikari Raising Project” for an original “Evangelion” comic written by Horn with art from (let’s say) Adam Warren. I have no idea whether or not such a project would ultimately be good (or, let’s face it, even representative of a good idea at this point), yet it excites me more to think about it than await the final four volumes of this particular title.
New Year’s Week is always the deadest week of the year for comics, but there’s at least one uh… decently lit spot for me. Vol. 4 of “The Massive” will be arriving then, so we’ll see if Brian Wood’s post-cataclysm series can finally start living up to its potential before the end. There are also other various items like the latest issues of DC’s weekly series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1,” the “Miracleman Annual,” and “Star Trek/Planet of the Apes #1.” All in all, not a whole lot of reasons to get out of bed on New Year’s day as I’m pretty sure most of this stuff will still be in stock for the rest of the week.
Back when I reviewed the first volume I expressed my hope that they’d get a new colorist for this series. One who knew how to make the colors as vibrant as the console and arcade brawlers this title draws its inspiration from. Well, writer/artist Sina Grace and co-writer Daniel Freedman replaced John Rauch with Renee Keyes, but the coloring still isn’t as vibrant as I was hoping for. It is less murky, and that’s unfortunately the only real improvement on display here. Instead of telling three shorter and varied stories, “Reign of Terror” tells one longer tale about Rock, Lex, and Bear’s fight against a resurrected Manncorp, led by Mann Jr. and his army of killer robots. They’ve taken over the city and Junior is looking to extract some revenge on Rock for killing his dad.
The story is just as ridiculous as you’d expect from one that features stripper ninjas along with the aforementioned killer robots. Unfortunately Grace and Freedman don’t find enough humor in their premise to sustain the story for the entirety of its length. There are some fun riffs on genre tropes, but everything on display here never got more than a warm smile from me. That’s likely because a lot of the material feels like its played a bit too straight for its own good. As a result, this story feels exactly like the kind of narrative we’d expect to find in an arcade or 16-bit brawler without the kind of self-awareness needed to either transcend the material or make it truly funny. Grace’s art really doesn’t push the needle in one direction or the other there, so it’s really hard to really get worked up about the idea of a third volume after it’s teased at the end of this one.