April 19, 2015
After reading a comic, it either passes on to my “to review” pile or straight onto a shelf. Looking at the size of my “to review” pile, it’s clear to me that I have to start burning through some of these things quicker if I want to get this thing down to a manageable level. On that note, I see that the next four titles in the pile are all creator-owned Image series. So I’m lumping “Lazarus vol. 3: Conclave,” “Prophet vol. 4: Joining,” “Roche Limit vol. 1: Anomalous,” and “Sex vol. 3: Broken Toys” all together under the break.
If you think I’m doing this because I didn’t care much for these titles, then you’re only, kinda, sorta about three-quarters right.
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April 18, 2015
Lord Henry Baltimore’s quest to rid the world of the Red King kicks off with the building of his party to do the job. That’s the thread which binds these two stories, starting with “The Witch of Harju” and the introduction of the title’s new regular artist Peter Bergting. In it, Baltimore and company find a town that is being plagued by the title witch as she raises the dead to do her bidding and transforms into a cat to spread her malice. There’s some nice monster-fighting action and the final showdown between Baltimore and the witch is quite cool. Yet this comes off as one of the title’s lesser stories as most of its supernatural tricks feel half-baked compared to what has come before. We also have to contend with dialogue from co-writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden that feels decidedly more expository than usual. I can’t quite explain how they managed that, but it could be down to the fact that this represents their first collaboration with Bergting. The artist does solid work here, capturing the action well and displaying some decent monster designs. Though the look of his art is creepy enough, his thin linework lacks the imposing moodiness of original artist Ben Stenbeck’s style.
Speaking of Stenbeck, he makes what could be his last contribution to this series for a while -- after moving on to other Mignola-related projects like the third volume of “Witchfinder” and the current “Frankenstein Underground” series -- with “The Apostle.” This two-part series is more in line with what I expect from “Baltimore,” particularly since it picks up on a lingering thread from the previous volume. The curse placed on Inquisitor Duvic by one of his victims has turned him into a werewolf and now his former brothers-in-arms have come to track him down in an abandoned castle. It does not go well for them, but it’s still results in a compelling story for us to take part in as we find out about it along with Baltimore after the fact. Stenbeck’s work is on excellent form here with the way he integrates shadow into his art, and keeps the goriest parts of Duvic’s exploits just off panel so that our imagination can fill in the blank. Mignola and Golden’s dialogue also feels less obtrusive here, and I can only hope that this will become less of a thing as they continue to work with Bergting.
This isn’t the tour-de-force that “Chapel of Bones” was. That was a climax point for the series and it was inevitable that the creators would want to scale things back some as they set things up for the next leg of the story. Even with the growing pains involved in breaking a new artist to this series, this latest volume of “Baltimore” shows that the exploits of its title character continue to be worth following.
April 17, 2015
Much to my surprise, this second volume manages to be a better read than the first simply by sticking to its guns and continuing on from what was established before. No, the secret underground assassin school of Kings Dominion isn’t developed much more here, but I’m more in tune with what writer Rick Remender is trying to do here. I name-checked “Battle Royale” last time and Remender understands that, like the movie, teen angst and drama is a lot more entertaining to watch when the kids in question have access to lethal weapons. To wit: Watching Marcus and his girlfriend Maria try to hash out their relationship issues takes on a greater urgency after she’s tried to shoot him with an arrow. The latter’s relationship issues are at the heart of a lot of the drama in this volume as Maria’s manic moods are bad news for everyone, and his growing closeness to Japanese assassin Saya don’t make things any easier for those involved either. While not a “relationship” in the sense of what I’ve been talking about, the one Marcus shares with crazed hillbilly psycho-killer Chester is given further development here as our protagonist and his classmates team up to take the bastard down.
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April 16, 2015
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's take on DC's Amazon warrior princess has been one of the consistent highlights of the "New 52." Does their finale measure up to the rest of their run?
April 14, 2015
After some fifteen-odd years of reading it and nearly eight alternately spent talking and writing about how good it is, the final volume of "Blade of the Immortal" has arrived for me. So yeah, I'm going to spend some time savoring the experience this evening. If these words don't convince you about how big a deal this is, then just listen to the end of the podcast tomorrow. "Wonder Woman" by Azzarello, Chiang, and co. tomorrow, "Blade of the Immortal vol. 31: Final Curtain" in two weeks. Yeah, it's that big of a deal.
April 14, 2015
After two years of regular bi-monthly serialization (save for this volume), the inevitable has happened with this series: “Sidonia” has finally caught up to the latest volume released in Japan. It also picked a fine note for that to happen on here. The opening phallocentric (no, really, it is) chapter and two that follow offer some conventionally entertaining mecha action, but things pick up from there. We see the harem situation that Tanikaze has found himself in for a while definitively resolved and in a touching fashion for the pilot and the female that he chose. As for the other candidates that weren’t picked, they handle the situation with class and in a surprising choice for two of them. In their case, I’ll have to go back and see if the decision to pair them off is dramatically consistent with what has come before. Romantic drama isn’t all this volume has to offer as old plot threads -- the Gauna’s greater cluster ship, the other hybrid Kanata, and the schemes of Ochiai in Kunato’s body -- are all revived here. Even though things end up on a cliffhanger here, there’s the sense that we’re headed into the final act and the series will be reaching a climax in the next couple of volumes.
That’s an interesting feeling to have, given how mangaka Tsutomu Nihei’s previous works, “Blame!” and “Biomega” never really mustered that feeling towards their respective ends. It underlines how “Sidonia” possesses the most conventional narrative of the mangaka’s works, yet it also shows how far he has come as a storyteller that the developments in this volume have real momentum to them. We still get plenty of the strangeness that the series is known for here, with Tanikaze’s romantic pairing and his experience with “marshmallow hell,” so it’s not like Nihei is compromising his style for the sake of drama here either. All in all, this is a great buildup to what I’m expecting to be the final arc for the series. I’m also hoping that Nihei will be able to expand on the narrative skills he’s been honing on “Sidonia” for his next series and deliver an experience that manages to be weird and compelling without retreading familiar genre conventions.
April 13, 2015
I don’t usually go in for videogame special editions, but the one being offered for “Final Fantasy Type-0 HD” had something that really caught my eye. That would be a 200-page manga that (as of this writing) isn’t available anywhere else. In addition to all of the other bells and whistles the special edition came with, it was this that I was most looking forward to checking out. This is in spite of the fact that the track record for manga spinoffs of anime or videogames is even spottier for similar ventures in this country. I was really feeling that in my first read-through of this volume before I started playing the game. The funny thing is that after putting in over twenty hours into the game and familiarizing myself with its story and characters, the manga actually becomes a lot more acceptable.
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April 12, 2015
“VINLAND SAGA” LIVES AGAIN!!!
Kodansha USA announced last week that volumes six and seven of this excellent series will be released this September and December, respectively. Even though I was having a good time at WonderCon when I read this news, finding out about “Vinland Saga’s” eventual return to print was the highlight of my day. However, this news came with a catch. It turns out that Kodansha’s license for the series only extends to these coming volumes. So if we want to see what happens after the fourteenth Japanese volume (remember, our editions have been 2-in-1 omnibi so far) then we’ll actually have to buy them.
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April 10, 2015
Speaking of “time running out,” here we are with the next volume of the series that heralds the end of the Ultimate Universe. The previous volume did an excellent job transitioning Hickman’s narrative eight months into the future and this latest one keeps most of the momentum from it intact. It’s an impressive feat considering all of the different storylines at play here. On this Earth alone we have Thanos’ Cabal who are still destroying alternate-reality Earths, Steve Rogers’ group of S.H.I.E.L.D.-affiliated Avengers who are busy hunting down the fugitive Illuminati, and a group of “New Avengers” who have come together to get the other two groups to stop fighting each other. Then there’s Doom who is off playing his own game with the Molecule Man. We also can’t forget about the Multiversal Avengers who have been flung halfway across the multiverse to find the source of the incursions and wind up coming face-to-face with the Black Priests and their leader.
With all of these elements in play there’s always a high risk that the narrative could degenerate into an incoherent mess. The fact that it doesn’t is likely down to whatever preparation notorious planner Hickman was able to do before he finally had to start typing all this up. Not only do we get answers -- in the form of finding out what Stark and Dr. Strange are up to, as well as a clarification of what the Multiversal Avengers’ purpose is -- but a lot of threads start coming together in the last two issues of this collection (and a couple more in its final pages). It’s great to see plot threads paying off now rather than saving everything for the final volume. Yes, it raises expectations for that final act, but at this point I’m inclined to think Hickman and co. can deliver. Particularly in light of the fact that he’s able to squeak in some great character moments, such as the conversation between Stark and the Black Swan, and Reed’s lessons to Valeria that narrate the final two issues.
It’s not all fantastic, as there are some parts that misfire or come off as too obscure for their own good to effectively contribute to the story at this time. Finding out that Cyclops has a Phoenix egg? Um, okay. When did this happen and what does it mean? Pod’s backstory also felt like it was unspooling just a little too late to be effective. Then you’ve got the Molecule Man who is meant to be the story’s all-powerful crazy person and whose characterization is stuck in “crazy.” Attentive readers will likely notice the five different artists credited on the cover and think that we’re in for another volume full of crazy style clashes like the first one. They’d be right and while I like most of the artists featured here, Szymon Kudranski’s contribution comes off as a less overtly photo-referenced, more over-rendered take on the kind of work I’m used to seeing from Greg Land. I don’t think that the art is going to get any more unified in terms of style for the next volume. At least the writing and overall storytelling are great enough to compensate.
April 9, 2015
There’s this anime my friend Steve watched years ago called “E’s Otherwise” that he likes to harp on from time to time. Not because it was particularly good or terrible, but because it was so average at everything it did. It was just there, existing as an example of anime and nothing more. That’s what these twelve issues of “All-New Ultimates” are: An utterly average comic that does nothing particularly well or actively awful. The title group -- still made up of Spider-Man, Black Widow, Kitty Pryde, Cloak, and Dagger -- are still cleaning up the mean streets of New York from figurative and literal Vermin, dealing with the fallout of the previous volume’s gang war, and mixing it up with a low-rent supervillain or two. Well, there is the scientist who turns into a giant purple freak that they have to take down. That part at least gets points for being less dumb than Kitty’s takedown of Galactus in “Cataclysm.” There’s also the introduction of “Ultimate” Terror, Inc. which is about as exciting as anything this series has produced.
The average nature of this series extends to its dialogue as well which never rises above “perfunctory.” Characters make general observations about their situations, villains make threats, heroes taunt them back. It’s like a bad parody of superhero comic dialogue found its way into an actual superhero comic. Things aren’t a whole lot better with the art, as the one thing I was looking forward to seeing in this volume -- the Marvel debut of “Old City Blues” and “Prophet” artist Giannis Milonogiannis -- turned out to be a wash. He’s not ready for prime time here as his linework comes off as way too simplistic and amateurish, showcasing his manga influence in the worst possible way. Regular artist Amilcar Pinna is the same as he was in the previous volume: Good with the action and bad with the faces.
Given all of the positive word-of-mouth I’ve heard about his series “Copra,” I was expecting a lot more from writer Michel Fiffe on this series. He ultimately delivered a thoroughly average run that feels like it was aimed at kids who have never read a comic before. Maybe an audience like that would’ve found something to enjoy with “All-New Ultimates.” I like to think that they’d see it for how boring it is and leave it on the shelf.
One more nail in the coffin for the Ultimate Universe. Time is running out…