Hinterkind vol. 2: Written in Blood

December 31, 2014

I’m going to start things off on a down note:  Based on sales of the single issues, it would appear that the forthcoming third volume of this title is going to be its last one.  That’s a shame because writer Ian Edginton and artist Francisco Trifogli’s story about how creatures of fantasy and myth came to reclaim the world from humans in the wake of a cataclysmic event is an entertaining read.  The creators have done an excellent job with building this new world and filling it with interesting, strange, and even quirky touches.  Quaker trolls and centaurs equipped with fully-automatic weapons are just some of the sights you’ll see as a new force comes into play with this volume.  That would be the vampires, who are portrayed here as a refined and highly-competent military organization with the most advanced (compared to everyone else) military technology on the planet.  It’s their efforts that complicate Prosper’s efforts to find her missing uncle Asa, and changeling friend Angus in this world she had no idea existed prior to a week ago.

“Written In Blood” covers a lot of ground and juggles several different points of view from the many different parties at play in this story.  While the story begins with Prosper and her roguish companion/captive Jon Hobb together, they’re eventually split off with the girl saving a Sidhe with a surprising lineage, and Hobb becoming a captive of the vampires before a last-minute conflict reunites him with some old friends and Asa.  Alongside this, you’ve got the introduction of Graf Orlock, the vampire leading their military operations, and treachery within the Sidhe royal family.  It sounds like a lot to take in, but Edginton has it unfold with a welcome degree of clarity and the constant shifting of alliances and parties helps keep the narrative interesting.  Trifogli continues to give the book its own distinct look and makes the disparate elements of the world look like they belong together.  Having a group of vampire commandos stage an air night raid on a troll farm sounds ridiculous beyond belief when I say it like that, but the artist makes it work.  There’s no denying that I’d like to see more of stuff like this.  The thing is that unless 9,999 other people go out and buy a copy of this volume then we’re not going to see any more of it past vol. 3.

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Satoshi Kon’s Opus

December 30, 2014

Back when I reviewed Kon’s “Tropic of the Sea,” I made the mistake of going into the manga expecting it to be the last great work of a genius who was taken from us too soon.  (I was also mistaken about its length -- this is his longest manga work.)  As it turns out, my expectations were wildly off base as it was his first professional work and it showed.  “Opus” was the creator’s last long-form manga before his anime directing career took off in the late 90’s with “Perfect Blue.”  It’s a much more accomplished work and gives the impression that, had he continued producing manga, we would’ve seen even more impressive things from him in this medium as time went on.  The best thing I can say about this series is that it likely would’ve made for a great addition to his film canon had he decided to make it as a movie instead.  If it weren’t for how it wraps up, I’d have no qualms about recommending this to fans of Kon or of manga that break the mold.

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Invincible vol. 20: Friends

December 29, 2014

Big things were promised for the issues contained within this volume, and Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley deliver on that promise in a way that I really didn’t expect.  In fact, they do some stuff here that I’ve never seen done before in a superhero comic.  Though a lot of it is played up for drama, the part that will likely stick with you the most after everything’s over is the moment of sexual violence perpetrated against the title’s main character, Mark Grayson.

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Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 2

December 28, 2014

I picked up this volume out of hope that the series would improve after the inauspicious start it presented in vol. 1.  Guess what?  Things did improve!  Granted, the nature of the improvement doesn’t immediately turn this into a must-read title.  In fact, the way things play out here make me wonder if mangaka Gamon Sakurai really knows what he’s doing here.

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Prophecy vol. 1

December 27, 2014

A man with a cut-out newspaper mask streams videos of his threats of violence on the internet before carrying them out.  Now it’s up to the members of the Metropolitan Anti-Cyber Crimes Division to catch him and his helpers before he and his partners commit more crimes in the real world.  However, public sentiment is not on the police’s side here.  “Paperboy,” as he’s called, is targeting trolls and other scum in his attacks.  A man who commented online that the victim of a sexual assault “shouldn’t have been so easy.”  An interviewer at an IT firm who mocks an older applicant trying to re-enter the workforce.  These are some of his targets and at this point it’s not hard to say that they don’t deserve the punishments they’ve received.  Paperboy has also vowed to take revenge on those who rob the self-respect of others, but is the righteousness of his crusade something that can be maintained long-term?  The question is will the purity of his purpose still be there when the cops finally catch up to him.

“Prophecy’s” main selling point is its focus on cyber-crime and social media’s reaction to it.  There’s a neat scene early on that establishes the ACCD and it’s ice-cold leader Erika Yoshino as she and her crew bust a teenage pirate who claims he’s doing this to benefit the Japanese games industry, yet subsequently breaks down in tears when his audience starts mocking him online for getting caught.  While it’s clear from this part that mangaka Tetsuya Tsutsui has a good handle on his subject matter, there is a bit of hand-holding in his narrative as he explains things like “flame wars” that will come off as redundant to anyone familiar with this kind of subject matter.  He does succeed in making Paperboy’s antics and quest fairly sympathetic, while also hinting that things will likely take a darker turn as time goes on.  The main problem here is that the overall direction of this three-volume series feels a bit predictable as it seems inevitable that the digital crusade at the heart of this story will eventually lose its way, allowing for the police to come in and sweep up what remains.  At this point, it’s still a decent read as Tsutsui keeps the narrative moving briskly along and the whole emphasis on cyber-crime sets the book apart from most other manga out there.

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Dark Horse Previews PIcks: March 2015

December 26, 2014

It’s close to the end of the year, so let’s revisit one of my ongoing concerns over the course of the year:  Sales for “New Lone Wolf & Cub.”  Not only is this a direct sequel to the best-selling Dark Horse manga of all time, but its success may determine what kind of manga we see from the company in the future.  At the very least, there are a couple more series from original “Lone Wolf” creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima that have yet to be brought over here from Japan.

According to the numbers from sales analyst/writer of “Star Wars:  Knights of the Old Republic” John Jackson Miller’s “Comichron” site, it seems that while we’re likely to get all of “New Lone Wolf,” the odds of us getting any more manga from Koike and his artistic collaborators are slim.  Vol. 1 sold 3,141 copies to comic shops in June, and vol. 2 sold 1,986 copies to the same outlets in September.  Granted, this is only a small snapshot of the title’s overall sales -- it doesn’t include sales to bookstores or online retailers like Amazon, which is how I got my copy -- Dark Horse’s manga sales outside of comic book stores hasn’t really been that strong.  According to the annual numbers from BookScan, that is.  Unless these volumes have demonstrated a significant long tail in the following months, then the demand for old-school samurai manga pretty much begins and ends with the original “Lone Wolf.”

Then again, this is probably an appropriate fate for the series in question.  I just finished the third volume and it has yet to shake off the whole “enjoyable yet unnecessary” vibe that has surrounded the title from the start.  The plot has contorted itself in interesting ways, and Shigekata displays some hardcore commitment to the samurai ethos, but it has yet to really add anything substantial to the “Lone Wolf” saga beyond the fact that Daigoro survived beyond the end of the original series.  Maybe its handling of the child’s development will set it apart.  For now, though, only the original series remains essential reading.

Oh yeah.  Talk about forthcoming Dark Horse titles kicks off after the break.

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Comic Picks #174: Grandville

December 25, 2014

Bryan Talbot's ongoing series of graphic novels about anthropomorphic animals in an alternate steampunk history is a fantastic mash-up of genres.

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Get out your wallets, it’s time to save “Vinland Saga!”

December 23, 2014

I was planning on writing up my thoughts on “Prophecy,” a new manga from Vertical, but then I read this earlier today.  After putting out five nice two-volumes-in-one hardcover editions of “Vinland Saga” in the space of a year, Kodansha U.S.A. has “temporarily” suspended publication of this excellent title.  As announcements of this such go, it’s better than what I’ve seen from Dark Horse in the sense that it exists, yet below the explanations we’ve received from Vertical and Viz who have actually offered some context for their decisions in the past.  There’s still a lack of clarity from Kodansha’s announcement at this time.  This “temporary” suspension could simply be a misguided way to diplomatically say that we’re not getting any more volumes of the title, which would be a goddamn shame.  Or, it could mean that Kodansha is trying to figure out a way to release subsequent volumes in a more cost-effective fashion.

It probably goes without saying, but I REALLY hope the latter situation is the case.  Though there’s plenty of speculation in the comments thread on that post from Anime News Network about the title’s sales, we actually have some hard evidence that they weren’t at the level Kodansha needed/wanted them to be.  Vols. 1-4 cost $20, vol. 5 cost $23 -- you don’t raise the price like that if a title is selling well.  Let me throw this out there:  If it means getting the series to completion in the U.S., I would be willing to pay a premium for subsequent volumes.  Each hardcover volume of “A Bride’s Story” has a $17 cover price (less with Amazon’s discount) and I pay that without question because the series is THAT GOOD.  The same is true for “Vinland Saga:”  It WILL be on my “Best of 2014” podcast in a couple weeks.  You’ll just have to listen to find out how high up it’ll be.  That said, now is the time to pick up the first five volumes of this title.  Better to show Kodansha that there is a dedicated audience for “Vinland Saga” as its corporate overlords decide its fate.

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Marvel Previews Picks: March 2015

December 22, 2014

ONE MILLION COPIES!

That’s how many the first issue of “Star Wars” is expected to sell when it debuts next month.  I think you’d have to go back to the pre-crash days of the 90’s to find a comic that reached this level of sales.  While I’m sure the A-list creative team of Jason Aaron, Marvel’s marketing muscle, and the 75 (and counting) different covers made a difference, there’s also word that the company pushed this title through additional outlets in order to reach this sales figure.  With the new movie coming next year, it would appear that everyone is getting back into “Star Wars” fandom again and that opens up all kinds of doors.

Then again, I’d really like to know what Mike Richardson thinks of this number after none of the Dark Horse “Star Wars” titles even came close to reaching this level of sales.  Probably something along the lines of, “Life’s just not fair.”  Unfortunately, in this case would be right.

And on that note…

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It’s schadenfreude time for “Spawn!”

December 21, 2014

A few months back, news broke that Brian Wood was going to be the new writer on Todd McFarlane’s long-running “Spawn” title.  Through a combination of general apathy about “Spawn” and the dubious nature of McFarlane’s talent (as well as his trolling of Neil Gaiman over the rights to “Miracleman” over the years), I was planning on skipping this title even though I’ve generally liked Wood’s work over the years.  Now we’re being told that he won’t be writing the title after all.  Wood turned in a spec script for “Spawn:  Resurrection #1” and, according to him, after he raised objections regarding the extent to which his script and larger plot were being rewritten the writer was promptly removed from the title.

On one hand, it’s too bad for Wood after the investment he put into writing that script and even worse for retailers who ordered “Resurrection” and “Spawn #251,” the writer’s first regular issue of the title, based on the hype surrounding this new direction.  (Fortunately for them, this change should make these issues fully returnable.)  On the other, this is “Spawn” we’re talking about so there’s a real question as to whether it would’ve been worth reading even with Wood’s involvement.  Has there ever been a point for this series when it was considered “essential” reading, let alone “good?”  I’m certainly impressed that its initial popularity has fostered a fanbase that continues to buy the series to this day, but I have to wonder if they’re just buying it out of obligation after they’ve invested so much in this series already.  Kind of like how I still buy “The Shinji Ikari Raising” project, so I’m not doing any better in my position from behind this keyboard.  In any event, now that Wood’s off that title it’s back to ignoring “Spawn” for the time being.

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(Unless McFarlane actually manages to get Grant Morrison to write the series like it was planned before Wood was announced.  If that happens, then expect to see some agonizing equivocation here as I try to justify reading it after what I’ve written.)