New Lone Wolf & Cub vol. 5

July 31, 2015

After five volumes I’m starting to get a little fuzzy on the details of the main plot for the series.  It’s supposed to be about how wandering ronin and surrogate father to Daigoro, Togo Shigekata, is delivering a message as the dying wish of a last man.  Upon delivering it, all sorts of behind-the-scenes machinations of the shogunate will come to fruition.  Or something like that.  It’s hard to care about that stuff now, even if the opening part of this volume -- focusing on one Ushiku Tenzen and his naked blonde amazoness subordinate Nina as they try to complete their mission.  While Nina’s presentation and actions further cement writer Kazuo Koike’s status as the dirtiest old man of manga, the latter half of this section shows that he can still craft a badass action sequence as Ushiku takes on a castle using his wits as skillfully as his sword.  Artist Hideki Mori continues to show, in sequences like these, that his old-school style has plenty of life and energy to it.

Where this series doesn’t let me down is in the ongoing relationship between Daigoro and Shigekata.  Though the ronin may be a surrogate father to the orphaned boy in the sense that he’s responsible for the kid’s welfare, in every other respect their relationship is that of teacher/student.  Shigekata knows this boy’s heritage and as a samurai of Satsuma, he clearly feels obligated to see it realized.  The training he puts Daigoro through is harsh -- throwing padded rods at the boy to teach him about dodging, having the boy wield the sword until his hands bleed -- but never cruel or without the child expressing some understanding of what’s being asked of him.  We also see the results of this training in impressive fashion.  Not every five-year-old is capable of bear cub, or frightening a foolhardy young swordsman to the point that he pisses himself.

It’s hard to fully embrace what Shigekata is doing here since (as I’ve mentioned before) it’s separated from child abuse by only the thinnest of margins.  That margin being that the world of “Lone Wolf & Cub” is one where only the strongest and manliest of men can hope to survive.  Without this training, there would be no hope that Daigoro could survive in it.  Not as the son of legendary assassin Itto Ogami.  If you can buy into that, then you can also buy into the parts that make this manga worth reading.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Ms. Marvel vols. 1-2

July 29, 2015

Six printings of the first issue.  Sales that remain consistent (and even go up).  Near-universal acclaim across the internet.  These are the things that can be used to describe “Ms. Marvel,” one of the most successful new characters that has come out of Marvel in quite some time.  With Carol Danvers now “Captain Marvel,” the newest character to hold the “Ms. Marvel” moniker is Pakistani-American Muslim Kamala Kahn and in the hands of writer G. Willow Wilson she proves to be utterly winning in the role.  Add in some stellar art from returning Marvel superhero veteran Adrian Alphona and you wind up with a title whose hype is justified.

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On my ongoing quest for entertaining trash!

July 27, 2015

“Wounded Man” managed it for nine volumes.  “High School of the Dead” gave us seven volumes that trended downward in quality before it just stopped.  “Terra Formars” gave us one hilariously awful volume before improving just enough to be boring.  “Tenjo Tenge” was… Well, that was mostly good and never less than “readable” for the majority of its run.  So it’s a few notches above “trash” in my estimation.  Yet it’s far harder than it looks to find a series that has the right balance of ridiculousness, ineptitude, sex, and violence to make for an enjoyable read that manages to also be absent of just about any socially redeeming qualities.  I picked up two series in the past month to see if they’d fit the bill.  However, while “Prison School” shows promise, “Freezing” is utter crap.

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Marvel Previews Picks: October 2015

July 26, 2015

“All-New Marvel NOW!” begins here!

...Wait, that’s not it.  They already used that one about a year into “Marvel NOW!”  Let me see…

Ah, “All-New, All-Different Marvel NOW!” begins here!

You know the drill, with the wrap-up of “Secret Wars” -- assuming that the final issue does arrive in October -- Marvel serves up its latest batch of creative reshuffling and new #1 issues.  Cynicism aside, some of these sound pretty good and there’s an increased commitment to diversity in terms of the characters being featured in these titles.  That’s only half the problem as there’s been an increasingly louder call for diversity in the creators who are bringing us these titles as well.  As long as the volume there keeps increasing, it’s likely we’ll see results there sooner rather than later.  After all, conventional wisdom these days states that you have to have a successful run at Marvel or DC before ditching them to start making real money with your creator-owned title at Image.  Though there’s always an exception to that rule...

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Image Previews Picks: October 2015

July 25, 2015

This year’s Image Expo was held the week before Comic-Con and, as you’d expect, featured a ton of new title announcements from creators who have worked with the publisher before and some new ones.  These announcements include:  Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque holding up new issues of “American Vampire”  ordinary person who happens to be extraordinary series “Huck,”  Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay’s supernatural coming-home series “Heartless,” Si Spurrier and Ryan Kelly’s multi-era magical hipster story “Cry Havoc,” and “Scalped’s” Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera re-teaming for their take on the Bible in “The Goddamned.”  Also of note is Bryan Lee O’Malley (of “Scott Pilgrim” fame) and Leslie Hung’s “Snotgirl” which was described as “Sex and the City” meets “American Psycho” featuring a fashion blogger with allergies, hence the title.  Said to get really dark really quick, it’s going to have to be excellent in order to get me past that title.  Also, in a deal that was surely finalized before they announced it onstage, Robert Kirkman will be letting Brian Vaughan write “The Walking Dead” for his online imprint The Panel Syndicate in exchange for a print version of “The Private Eye.”  It’s one of those deals where everybody wins!

Also, instead of last year’s trend of announcing stuff that hasn’t even come out yet, some of the titles that came out of this year’s con are being solicited here:

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Iron Man by Gillen vol. 5: Rings of the Mandarin

July 24, 2015

Kieron Gillen wraps up his tenure as chronicler of the adventures of Anthony Stark by smashing up two, two, TWO stories in one volume.  The first, which was set up at the end of vol. 4, involves Stark going head-to-head with Malekith, Lord of the Dark Elves, for control of the Mandarin Rings that he has.  It’s a great “science vs. magic” setup that also has the novelty of pitting the title character against a villain he’s never fought before.  The pairing works as we see Malekith get under Stark’s skin in a way that few bad guys have in recent memory, and while the bad guys do have magic at their disposal we get to see our hero counter their attacks in some pretty clever ways.  Gillen’s wit is also on fine form here, whether it’s with the banter between Stark and his magical tech support girl Shevaun, or the put-downs he’s issuing to Malekith’s lackeys.  This is a fun romp while it lasts, let down only by some rough art from Luke Ross which makes it look like he was running up against all deadlines for the issues he illustrated.

Halfway through, the story changes as the wielders of the other Mandarin Rings come into play.  Ranging from obscure nobodies like French Nazi Alec Eiffel (a.k.a. “The Fascist Man Alive”) to genuine threats like the Mole Man, this group of ring-wielders teams up to advance their own agenda and bring down Stark and his friends in the process.  Between the two stories, this is the one that feels like it got the short shrift as its “bunch of bad guys teaming up to take out the title character” is end-of-a-run level plotting.  Unfortunately they don’t get much to do beyond team up and then get beat down.  There’s also a few different artists working on these issues and they’re all working in the same basic superhero style, which means everything looks fine but big money shot moments like Arno Stark’s “IRON METROPOLITAN SMASH!” don’t pay off as well as they should.  On the plus side, it is fun seeing the Stark Brothers work together with their friends to take out the badguys, Stark’s resolution to Liar’s hostage situation with Pepper Potts was genuinely surprising, and the writer wraps up his run with a decent amount of closure.  Not a complete loss, just not all it could’ve been.

Gillen’s tenure on “Iron Man” has been fun even if it hasn’t been on the level of his other Marvel work -- I’m looking in the direction of “Journey Into Mystery,” “Uncanny X-Men,” and “S.W.O.R.D.” for reference.  He at least deserves credit for trying to do new things with the character, even if they didn’t always pan out.  The retcons to his origin that got us Arno worked, though the plans for Iron Metropolitan did not.  Bendis is the incoming writer here and he’s never been one to directly pick up on what other writers have done before.  So, regardless of what you thought of Gillen’s run, it likely won’t have any bearing on the new “Invincible Iron Man” title.  It’s a disappointing thought, but not a particularly heartbreaking one in this case.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Comic Picks #189: The Massive

July 22, 2015

Brian Wood's creator-owned follow-up to "DMZ" has its moments, but never fully realizes its potential.

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Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2 — Revelations

July 21, 2015

The main problem I’ve had with the past few volumes of this title is that Bendis has been putting Miles Morales through situations that defined Peter Parker rather than building up the history and character of this latest Spider-Man.  Miles is a great character and seeing him put through the same paces as his predecessor feels lazy and uninspired.  With this last volume before the character is shuttled off to the Marvel Universe proper, Bendis finally gets back to telling stories about him.  It’s not a perfect send-off -- It has a genuine “Red Skies” crossover ending! --but it at least gives me hope that we’ll see better stories about Miles with the forthcoming relaunch of his title as (adjectiveless, dig it) “Spider-Man.”

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Maria the Virgin Witch vol. 3

July 20, 2015

This wraps up the main story with the fourth volume “Exhibition” set to contain… I dunno, maybe side stories set before, after, or even during the events of the previous three volumes.  Anywhoo, vol. 3 wraps things up in better fashion than what I was expecting after vol. 2.  It’s nothing fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but if you were hoping to see Maria get a happy ending that involves her finding happiness for herself, then you’re likely to be satisfied.  I felt that the plot mechanics, as orchestrated by mangaka Masayuki Ishikawa, were pre-ordained to deliver this kind of conclusion.  So while it’s nice to see the title character achieve the “mega-happy ending,” it didn’t really feel earned so much as dictated.  At least the yammering about God’s role in humanity’s existence is dialed back a bit for this volume.

I will give credit to the mangaka for the parts of this volume that didn’t feel forced.  Maria’s ecstatic joy at finally getting a boyfriend was fun, Ezekiel’s moral dilemmas and ultimate fate were handled quite well, and the witch Edwina’s role in the story was constantly amusing.  In Edwina’s case, she comes off as a witch who just wants to go about her business as always, but has to deal with the consequences of witches like Maria and Viv who do not.  Her exasperation at their actions was genuinely funny as she was the one person who didn’t want to cause any fuss, yet wound up in a personal dispute between Heaven and Man that she had no real stake in.  Honestly, I’d much rather see another volume about her life than Maria’s since Edwina’s has much greater potential for comedy and entertainment at this point.

Based on the story told over these three volumes, “Maria the Virgin Witch” isn’t a bad series.  It just hasn’t shown itself to be anything more than agreeable fluff.  I can only hope that my patience in buying it has convinced Kodansha that there’s an audience for Ishikawa’s work to the point that they’ll license-rescue “Moyasimon.”  (Not that I’ll be holding my breath at this point.)

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

DC Previews Picks: October 2015

July 19, 2015

Well, the new trailer for “Batman vs. Superman” at least did a better job of putting the title conflict into perspective.  Still not completely sold on Zack Snyder’s ultra-serious approach to the DC Universe.  I’m more optimistic about the new “Batman” film coming from Ben Affleck, and supposedly co-written by him and Geoff Johns.  Now there’s a writer who knows his way around the DCU, though I’ve been more partial to his take on the Man of Steel as opposed to the Caped Crusader.  The “Suicide Squad” teaser did a good job of making the film seem like it’d be true to the source material and a good action movie.  Not completely sold on Jared Leto’s Joker, but I only have to go on the ten seconds or so that we actually saw of him.  A friend did tell me about a crazy fan theory involving the Joker writing on the Robin costume in the “BvS” trailer that has this iteration of the character actually having an origin that borrows a lot from “Batman Beyond:  Return of the Joker.”

Not a bad showing overall from Warner Bros./DC on the film side of things from Comic-Con.  As for the comics?  Well, the announcements from that will be trickling through these solicitations over the next few months.  (I will say that I am not onboard with the idea of a new “Lucifer” series without the involvement of Mike Carey.)

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