Dark Horse License-Rescues “Planetes”: A “Good News/Bad News” Kind of Thing

March 31, 2015

In case the title of this post wasn’t expository enough for you, Anime News Network has reported that the crown jewel of Tokyopop’s manga line will be coming back into print.  Mind you, that’s “crown jewel” as I see things.  Over the course of five volumes in the U.S., Makoto Yukimura’s sci-fi series managed the incredibly tricky task of balancing hard science with believable character as he chronicled the exploits of the Toy Box and its crew of trash collectors in outer Earth orbit.  It was a singular experience, applying a blue-collar ethos to a setting that was at once fantastic and inevitable given humanity’s tendency to trash up any place that it visits.  The manga also spawned an anime that was just as good, if not a little better in how it managed to expand the scope of the story and flesh out key relationships.  As it was a sci-fi series that trended more towards the “hard” end of that particular spectrum, it didn’t sell all that well for the publisher.  However, everyone who did buy a copy had nothing but good things to say about it.  So if you missed out on buying it the first time, then now’s your chance to make amends.

While the fact that “Planetes” is coming back into print is unequivocally a good thing, there is one issue that nags at me.  Longtime readers will know that I’m quite preoccupied with the state of Dark Horse’s manga line and the fact that they’re re-publishing this series is one more step towards their eventual fate.  That being a company who exists only to manage their massive backlist, publish titles only from established creators/series/anime, and license-rescue notable titles from other publishers.  “Planetes” isn’t the first series they’ve rescued from Tokyopop -- their CLAMP titles and the “FLCL” omnibus are the most notable -- it’s just the latest.  If I had my way, I’d see them re-release “Future Diary” and finish it so that everyone could enjoy the absolutely bonkers apocalyptic/parallel reality/time travel climax that series featured.  Still, if you ever hope to see them publish another title like “Blade of the Immortal,” which arrived with no anime tie-in or notable creator, then the odds are looking increasingly slim that’ll ever happen again.

On that note, Sakura-Con is this weekend and that’s when Dark Horse announces the majority of their licenses for the coming year.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that any of the new titles we hear from them don’t conform to the above-mentioned categories.  Or just hope that the titles they do announce are interesting enough to make such worrying irrelevant.

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Avengers World vol. 3: Next World

March 29, 2015

The saga of the Avengers’ horrible, no-good, very bad day comes to a close here as Nick Spencer wraps up his run in a tidy fashion with this volume.  Looking back on things, it becomes clear that even though the book was pitched as the “global” Avengers book that picked up on some of Hickman’s plot threads from his books, Spencer had his own story to tell with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  That kind of planning makes it easier to appreciate the story, even if the most impressive part about it was Marco Checchetto’s work in the latter half.  Then you get the “Axis” tie-in in the final two issues which make me wonder why Spencer didn’t write them himself since they’re all about setting up a key plot point for his “Ant-Man” series.

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Mark Waid’s Final Smashes on “Hulk”

March 28, 2015

Unlike the last volume, “Indestructible Hulk vol. 4:  Humanity Bomb” actually tells a coherent story.  More remarkable is the fact that Mark Waid manages to tell an interesting story in spite of the deeply uninteresting “Inhumanity” setup he’s saddled with.  With the terrigen mists transforming transforming random people throughout the country into Inhumans,  Bruce Banner builds a bomb to try and defuse the threat.  Things go about as badly as you’d expect, but they do lead to some engaging superhero action and a rare four-way brainiac team-up between Banner, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Henry McCoy as they try to keep the situation from getting any worse.  The story does suffer a bit as it transitions from the terrigen threat to a rather bland scientific collective trying to manipulate the chaos to their own ends.  It’s not as big a deal as the chaotic art, which is generally good on a moment-to-moment basis and a mess overall due to the fact that six artists worked on the five issues of the regular series collected here.

There’s also an “Indestructible Hulk Annual” by writer Jeff Parker and artist Mahmud Asrar to pad out the page count in this volume.  It features Banner and Stark teaming up to find out what one of their old mentors is up to on a deserted island.  Parker gets some good mileage out of the volatile relationship between the two heroes and Asrar does good by all of the monsters they wind up fighting.  It’s harmless fun overall.

Then we come to the end of Waid’s run with the relaunched “Hulk vol. 1:  Banner DOA” which picks up from the cliffhanger that wrapped up the previous volume as we find out that the title character now has the mind of a child.  It’s all part of another shadowy organization’s plan to control the Hulk and utilize him for their own nefarious ends.  That part I could’ve done without, but it does lead to an extended fight between Hulk and an upgraded Abomination with some Avengers in the role of the calvary.  This setup allows Waid to deliver an even more focused and energetic story than before, and the art from Mark Bagley conveys the action and the big setpiece moments quite well.  The first volume of “Indestructible” was the best of the writer’s “Hulk” comics, yet this at least sends the uneven run out on a high note (with an epilogue of sorts in the “Original Sin” tie-in).

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Claymore vol. 26

March 27, 2015

While we’re on the subject of series that are marching towards their end, “Claymore” has reached its penultimate volume.  Regrettably, as has been the case with the last couple of volumes, there’s more bland action than exciting plot revelations here.  This series has always been “Berserk Lite,” but it nevertheless managed to conjure up an impressive amount of momentum through its middle part with the changes to the status quo and plot twists it kept piling on in quick succession.  Save for the very last page of this volume, I read through it out of duty rather than enjoyment marveling only at one point where it looked like mangaka Norihiro Yagi was going to undermine most of the progressive goodwill he’s built up by making a series focused around badass demon-fighting swordswomen.

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Chew vol. 9: Chicken Tenders

March 26, 2015

I’m going to miss this series when it’s gone.  That time is coming up soon as we’re now three-quarters of the way through its planned 60-issue run -- the panel of Older Applebee telling Older Chu how much he hates him in the final issue is starting to feel tangible at this point.  It’s because there isn’t another series out there that manages to balance the gleefully bizarre with coherent, well-thought-out plotting.  Usually you have to sacrifice one for the other.  However, John Layman has found a way to write a series where a vampire uses the powers he gained from eating the last descendant of a line of warrior chefs to take a man’s arm off with a butter knife and still have it feel like a natural part of the world he has created.  Even the last-minute save in this situation due to the intervention of a certain government agency with all the best toys manages to not make the showdown between Tony and Colby -- because the latter’s secrets have finally come back to bite him -- feel any less dramatic.

I’ve probably said this before, but having as versatile an artist as Rob Guillory on hand to draw all of this certainly helps to no end.  Even compared to previous volumes, the visual imagination on display here is staggering.  From simple sight gags like our first look at the Applebee family to the double-page spreads of Poyo’s exploits that pepper the volume, the art is never less than excellent from start to finish.  I know I’m gushing here, but “Chew” has really been on a roll after crossing the halfway mark.  Yes, the ratio of plot development to fluff isn’t as balanced as it should be.  Entertaining as the gags in Poyo’s solo issue were (including one that illustrates the great crossover potential this series has with “The Walking Dead”), it didn’t add anything to the story as a whole.  Well, maybe it made the scene on the final page hit harder for those of you who weren’t convinced of the character’s greatness.  It really does feel like Layman and Guillory are doing some career-defining work on this title and that they’ll be hard-pressed to try and top it with whatever they do next.  That’s a concern for another day, as there are still three more volumes to savor *rimshot* before the end.

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Marvel Previews Picks: June 2015

March 25, 2015

500K+ orders for the first issue of “Secret Wars” in the direct market alone.  It’s no “Star Wars,” but those are “Amazing Spider-Man #1” numbers from last year, and that had the benefit of whatever momentum the film brought to that launch.  So it would appear that the Marvel Hype Machine has pulled off an impressive feat in convincing their general readership that this is a big, important event that demands your attention even more so than the last few big, important events that they’ve rolled out.  It’s even more impressive when you consider that the numbers for the first issue are ten times the current readership for “Avengers”/”New Avengers,” the titles the event is spinning out from.  I’m looking forward to it precisely because it’s the culmination of Hickman’s run on those titles and I can only wonder about the people who pick it up cold and are left wondering what an “incursion” is and why it means the end of the Marvel Universe.  Expect sales to drop off sharply from that first issue, is what I’m saying.

Also, Bendis claims that the Ultimate Marvel Universe is not dead yet.  Short of simply continuing the adventures of Miles Morales in a solo title, I’m not sure I see a point in keeping it around anymore.  Much like the peasant who kept protesting that he wasn’t dead, someone needs to just put the once-great universe down so we can all get on with our lives.

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My Love Story!! vols. 1-2

March 24, 2015

The reason you don’t see much shoujo manga featured on this site is mainly because I’m a guy.  Shocking, I know.  I do have a friend who was a fiend for the stuff and I could browse through her library and check out all the stuff that looked interesting.  I wouldn’t have read titles like “Paradise Kiss,” “Mars,” or “Skip Beat” without that particular opportunity.  These days, life (mainly parenthood, twice over) has caused her to re-prioritize and I’m left to my own devices in regards to finding good titles to read in a genre that is geared almost entirely towards teenage girls.  Yet the best stuff transcends age and gender and I was hoping that this title would have that kind of quality.  It did at first and now I’m wondering if it’ll be able to get it back.

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Point of Impact

March 23, 2015

Here is a miniseries that very much wants to be like one of those movies with a sprawling cast of characters whose lives start to interconnect over the course of its running time.  It’s the death of a woman that gets the plot in motion after she falls to her death from a building onto a car.  Suicide is quickly ruled out as forensics show that she didn’t jump, but was thrown.  From there the story follows three different threads:  That of the husband and his efforts to find out why she was killed,  her lover who tries to find out who killed her, and the cops as they investigate her death.  All of their paths cross at multiple points in the story as it unfolds to reveal a tale of corporate espionage and the ruthless lengths those in power will go to cover it up.  All of this is shown through some appealing black-and-white art from Koray Kuranel whose clear storytelling and distinct characters help draw you in.  Writer Jay Faerber also keeps the story moving at a fast clip throughout, giving it some energy in the process.

Unfortunately, “Point of Impact” is no “Magnolia” or “Traffic.”  While the fast pace Faerber imparts to his narrative is appreciated, it doesn’t compensate for the fact that the story he’s telling isn’t very original.  It doesn’t tell us anything new about how bad corporations can be or put any clever spins on the tropes employed here.  Attentive readers will also be able to see the one significant plot twist in the final issue coming well before it hits.  Then you’ve got the dialogue which ranges in quality from functional to laughable in its attempts to convey tough-guy machismo or lessons learned from this whole affair.  Even if it doesn’t want to be a high-minded artistic affair like the films I mentioned, it fails at being satisfying popcorn entertainment.  “Point of Impact” at least features decent art, coherent storytelling and is not actively awful.  If you feel like rewarding this series for meeting the basic standards of narrative told through sequential art with your time and money, then you’re welcome to it..

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Image Previews Picks: June 2015

March 22, 2015

In the pantheon of late comics, “Nonplayer” is a special case.  There have been many series where there was a big fuss about the first issue, and then disappeared completely after delays destroyed its moment and/or people realized that what they had bought was total crap.  (This happened most often with a lot of Image titles in the 90’s.)  With “Nonplayer,” the first issue debuted to great acclaim for its art and story, whipped up a huge amount of buzz for creator Nate Simpson, and even got some attention from Hollywood along the way.  However, that first came out in 2011 and it took Simpson a year to complete it in the first place.  That it has been MIA ever since hasn’t been all that surprising to me.

Then, back in December, Simpson posted a status update where he explained just what happened.  Read it and you’ll see that the birth of his son was probably the least traumatic and disruptive thing that happened to him after that first issue came out.  I was also surprised to learn that the second issue had been finished and is featured in these latest solicitations from Image.  For me, I’m actually impressed that he’s still sticking with his series after all these years and the wait between issues will make a fun bit of apocrypha once “Nonplayer” is finally finished and collected.  Because that’s the only way I’m going to read it -- my respect notwithstanding, this is another example of why I wait for the trade.

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X-Men: X-Club

March 21, 2015

His runs on “X-Men:  Legacy” and “X-Force” aren’t writer Si Spurrier’s only excursions into the oddball fringe of the X-Men franchise.  This miniseries pre-dates both of them and it has Spurrier indulging his love of outlandish superhero sci-fi concepts to the hilt.  It involves the title group, the X-Men’s “science team,” made up of Dr. Nemesis, Kavita Rao, Madison Jefferies, and Danger as they help the main team with the setup of the world’s first commercial space elevator.  Faster than you can ask, “So what goes wrong?” the celebratory press conference is crashed by Atlanteans who turn out to be suffering from poisoning from an unstable terrigen isotope which causes them to mutate uncontrollably before exploding.  This is only the beginning of a story that features trans-dimensional Nazis and A.I.s, the superposition of multiple realities being restored by sheer force of will, human/machine love and the miracle of robotic life, and even divine inspiration sneaking its way into the realm of science.

“X-Club” isn’t as accomplished as Spurrier’s other X-works, but that mostly comes down to the fact that this was originally a five-issue miniseries.  That means there’s less room to explore a lot of the crazy stuff that he comes up with here and most of the ideas wind up being words which are shouted at the reader.  It’s not that much of a problem in my book as I’d rather a project suffer from too much ambition than too little, and it’s Dr. Nemesis doing the shouting more often than not.  Spurrier has a near-perfect command of how to use that character and not make him come off as completely insufferable, and he manages to give him and the rest of the core cast members well-defined arcs throughout the miniseries.  It’s illustrated by Paul Davidson, as he’s kind of a go-to guy when you want your art to be “superhero, but different.”  That usually winds up being “competent, but kind of unexciting” except here as he meets the writer’s crazy, reality-bending demands head-on and produces his best work I’ve seen to date.  Even if the story is too overstuffed for the writer to claim the same distinction, the overall package is definitely worth reading for fans of oddball X-projects.

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