Assassination Classroom vol. 5

August 31, 2015

Principal Asano wins one and loses one in my book for this volume.  I was very much looking forward to seeing how his intervention would change the shape of the baseball game between Class E and the varsity squad at the end of the previous volume.  Though he offers some choice motivation that helps the varsity squad turn the tide, some lateral thinking from Class E leads to them winning in the end.  After that, Asano just leaves.  I wasn’t expecting him to break down into any kind of angry rant, but some acknowledgement of how things turned out would’ve been nice.  Even with Class E and Koro-sensei coming out on top for once, this feels a bit anti-climactic.

That’s not the case in the second story from this volume has the military being frustrated by their agent’s (that would be P.E. teacher Karasuma) lack of progress in training these kids to take out Koro-Sensei.  So they send in a replacement, Takaoka, who was a colleague of Karasuma’s from back when he was part of the airborne brigade.  While Takaoka is all smiles at first and comes bearing lots of free candy for the kids, it’s quickly revealed that his style borrows a lot from “The Great Santini.”  Takaoka makes for a great, hateable villain and whether or not he remains as the kids’ P.E. teacher comes down to a duel between him and Nagisa with a real knife.

It may seem unlikely, but mangaka Yusei Matsui pulls off that part of the story quite well.  Granted, I’ve seen martial arts movies and comics that deal with the kind of strategy that Nagisa employs here so what he does is actually credible to a certain extent.  Also, I like how we get a potentially interesting and morally troublesome story thread to pursue with the character.  Helping matters is that Matsui set things up with a nice visual flourish involving Karasuma’s perceived reaction to Nagisa early on (this volume actually has several of them -- he’s getting quite good with delivering memorable visuals).  Asano also shows up at the end to remind everyone who’s really in charge in a way that doesn’t grate at all.  Karasuma still gets the victory while the principal’s power is further established.  Quality work all around with this volume that leaves me looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Image Previews Picks: November 2015

August 30, 2015

Something that escaped my notice last month:  A new series called Switch from Stjepan Sejic, creator of “Sunstone.”  How could I gloss over a new title from a creator I like?  When it involves an apparent relaunch of “Witchblade,” a series Sejic worked on for years, and I’ve had zero interest in ever since it launched.  As it turns out, “Switch” isn’t exactly a relaunch of “Witchblade.”  Yes, the titular artifact does find its way onto an unlikely bearer, but this time it happens to be a geeky high school girl.  While I’m sure that the standard superhero and fantasy tropes will find their way into this series in due course, the second issue describes the new wielder being courted by opposing forces with hilarity and awesomeness following in “Sejic-style.”  If this series really can deliver on the sense of humor and irreverence present in “Sunstone” (and maybe even a little of the drama) then it might actually be a keeper.  The fact that it also began life as a webcomic, a la “Sunstone,” does bode well for it.

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Marvel Previews Picks: November 2015

August 29, 2015

How big of an event is “Secret Wars?”  So big that they couldn’t fit the story into the solicited eight issues.  It was announced earlier this week that we’re getting an extra -- ninth -- issue to wrap up Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s epic storyline.  That said, it’s not clear if we’re actually getting more of the story or if the page count is just being shuffled around a bit because of deadlines.  While the final issue was going to be a $4.99, 54-page extravaganza, it’ll now be a $3.99, 40-page serving.  However, the real story here is how the deadlines for this series are being thrown out the window and not only will the final issue not be released until all of the realunches are well underway, but the collected edition likely won’t be out before the end of the calendar year.  I’m more broken up about the latter issue.  Given this kind of chaos, it’s not surprising that Hickman is taking a “Marvel Break” to focus on his creator-owned work.

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The Adventures of Dr. McNinja vol. 3: King Radical

August 28, 2015

All good stories about ninjas who are also doctors must eventually come to an end.  Such is the case when creator Chris Hastings announced earlier this month that the current arc of this series (currently being serialized at www.drmcninja.com) will be its last.  I’m cool with that.  You can only sustain inspired craziness like this for so long and the fact that he’s been doing it for nearly a decade now boggles the mind.  Better to quit while you’re ahead and, “King Radical” shows that’s still the case as the Doc gets serious about getting Rad.  Based on the solicitation text for this volume, I was expecting a zany riff on “Sleeper” as Doc goes undercover in King Radical’s organization and starts to come around to his quarry’s way of thinking.  That doesn’t happen.  What does happen involves the King of All Hobos becoming the Mayor of Cumberland, Doc’s mom getting hit with a mummy’s curse, Gordito enrolling in middle school, Dr. McLuchador, a giant robot with a most unusual power source, and the revivifyingly radical effects of Mountain Dew Code Red.

It’s a surreal, outlandish, and utterly ridiculous experience in the best tradition of this series.  Best of all is that Hastings never lets the narrative fly completely off the handle into nonsense.  What you get here may be really goddamn weird, but it still works on its own terms.  Case in point:  When King Radical explains his personal history and it winds up being all sorts of bizarre, funny, and even kind of sad.  He may be the most radical man in this radical land, and yet the world he came from was the most radical of all.  Now he’s stuck in this half-rad world and doing his best to try and make it a little more like home.  King Radical actually comes off as kind of tragic here and still the villain as his plans endanger the lives of everyone in Cumberland.  Of course, this is still a story where a couple of pizza-making analogues for the Mario Bros. have to deliver a hundred golden cockatrice sausage pizzas in half an hour through a fiendish gauntlet of Bad Dudes (and a tiger).  So don’t fear that this series is going to start taking itself seriously anytime soon.  Which is good, because with the end in sight I want to see it go out in style.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Mind MGMT vol. 5: The Eraser

August 26, 2015

If the previous volume was The One Where Everything Goes Wrong, then this is The One Where Things Start Turning Around.  After nearly losing everything to Julianne -- The Eraser, Meru is only able to make it out of Hong Kong thanks to some posthumous help from Dusty and his music.  Making her way to the rendezvous point by the Ganges river in India, she finds out that her next step is to track down the First Immortal to receive the additional training she needs to stop The Eraser.  That she meets the First Immortal shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Unless you’re wondering about whether or not his training will actually help Meru triumph over her nemesis.  That part of the narrative is a lot dicier for our protagonist.

The story follows a pretty conventional path that will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of the conventions of this kind of story.  While you can put “Eye of the Tiger” on loop while reading this, creator Matt Kindt won’t oblige you with any kind of training montage here.  He does break out some impressive stylistic tricks, as always.  They range from the simple “avalanche” effect that introduces Dusty’s Disciples, to the branching off of the “side page” text into the story itself, and the multifaceted psychic battle between Meru and Julianne.  Also, I’m pretty sure that only someone whose mind works in the ways that Kindt’s does would even begin to conceive of finally giving us The Eraser’s full story in the form of a cheesy sci-fi novel.

There are also the fun little details, like how the First Immortal likes to get high on his own very personal supply of mushrooms, that add color to the story.  In addition, the First Immortal’s extended flashback to the origins of Mind MGMT is also quite illuminating, showing us how the organization’s techniques were developed and how they eventually began to go wrong.  Then you’ve got the bit with the politician, Idris, and his machinations as one of The Eraser’s agents.  It may seem like Kindt is setting up a lot of disparate threads, but he manages to pull them together in satisfying fashion by the end of the volume.  When you get there, you’ll definitely feel ready for the upcoming series finale in vol. 6

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto vol. 1

August 24, 2015

I almost want to call this, “I’m Sorry, I Can’t Hear You Over the Sound of How Awesome I Am:  The Series.”  That’s basically the deal with the title character, everything he does is effortlessly stylish while he also manages to maintain an air of aloof indifference/humility that keeps him from becoming entirely insufferable.  Essentially a parody of the kind of tropes you find in school manga, Sakamoto the character upends them all with style and grace.  Whether it’s something as simple as grabbing an eraser wedged in a door before it can fall on his head, or as complex as whipping up an ersatz hotel room out of school gym supplies, there is nothing that he can’t handle.  If this sounds amusing to you, then go out and get the first volume now.

Me, I’m still kind of on the fence about it -- and I DID buy the thing!  I like the fact that Sakamoto never resorts to violence to solve these issues.  While not exactly MacGyver-ian, the on-the-spot ingenuity he displays in his actions is also cool.  It’s also nice to see a protagonist succeed in a plot-dictated way that’s usually only enjoyed by antagonists… but it gets kind of old towards the end of this volume.  “Sakamoto” is a one-trick pony at this point, minus the boundless creativity demonstrated in a title that sticks to it’s own formula, “My Neighbor Seki.”  (Speaking of which, vol. 3 is just as fantastic as the first two -- it really is surprising how “Seki” has turned out so far.)  There is a hint that Sakamoto’s abilities may be otherworldly in nature.  Or I could just be reading too deeply into a throwaway line at the end of chapter 4.  This volume of “Sakamoto” is amusingly different.  I’m just not sure if it has anything more to offer than what we see here.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Dark Horse Previews Picks: November 2015

August 23, 2015

Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics, went on record to Comic Book Resources about how the company’s sales have been going up over the last few years.  Which is good because an industry without Dark Horse is a lesser one for that.  While he shrugs off the loss of the “Star Wars” license (as well he should), but 2015 will be the first year the company hasn’t had the benefit of that to boost their marketshare.  If they can post growth for this year, then Richardson will really have something to rub in his rivals’ faces.

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DC Previews Picks: November 2015

August 22, 2015

“Mad Max:  Fury Road” director George Miller takes on “Man of Steel 2?”  That’s the rumor right now with all of the people who have been reporting it saying that it feels like little more than wishful thinking at this point.  It’s not entirely inconceivable as Miller was associated with a proposed “Justice League” movie that fell apart in the previous decade and he’s likely riding high at Warner Bros. after the success of “Fury Road.”  However, the director already has a proposed “Mad Max” sequel, “The Wasteland,” waiting for the greenlight and as he’s in his 70’s one can’t be sure if he wants to spend any part of his twilight years working on a studio-controlled superhero movie.  There’s also no question that “Man of Steel 2” needs him a lot more than he needs it at this point.  If this rumor pans out at all, I’d be willing to bet some kind of compromise along the lines of Miller doing “Man of Steel 2” in exchange for “The Wasteland” and I could live with that.

As for DC’s November solicitations, it turns out that the company thought that just one “Batman” miniseries co-written by Brian Azzarello wasn’t enough for us this month.

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Daredevil vol. 3: The Daredevil You Know

August 20, 2015

This volume starts off as so much fun!  We get a two-parter involving a former *ahem* daredevil known as the Stunt-Master who asks for Matt Murdock’s help in dealing with this new kid who has took his name.  Murdock agrees only after the new kid’s self-aggrandizing tactics drive the former Stunt-Master to suicide  What follows is a series of breathlessly paced action scenes and surprise twists as Daredevil aims to beat the new Stunt-Master at his own game, only to find that someone is playing a much larger one.  Then we move on to other drama as Matt angsts with Foggy about how good things are going with his relationship with Kirsten (As we all know what tends to happen to Daredevil’s girlfriends…), helps to rescue her from a criminal she put away, deals with the loss of his secret identity by getting a snazzy new suit, and has run-ins with San Francisco’s other vigilante, The Shroud, and the Owl’s daughter.  It’s all great fun, until the last half of the final issue collected here when it all comes crashing down and it becomes clear that what we’ve been reading is the start of  Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s final “Daredevil” arc.

That’s not a complaint, per se.  The fact that their run was ending has been known for a while now, but it still caught me off guard here because I thought we’d get the meat of that in the final volume.  Instead, we’re treated to seeing Murdock’s life fall apart in the space of ten pages as one of his longtime rogues uses his new abilities to dig up a ton of damaging info for our hero.  Even though it’s a tradition in EVERY “Daredevil” run for the title character’s life to fall completely apart at some point, the suddenness with how Waid does it makes that old trope quite effective here.  He also wraps up this volume by bringing in another character that… Well, even that’s probably saying too much.  My only gripe is that as this volume collects issues #11-15, the final volume will just have #’s 16-18 plus the #15.1 issue to pad things out.  It grates that we’re getting a volume with only three proper issues and (what I can only hope is a decent) issue of filler.  Still, after what these creators have done on this title so far, I have to concede that those three issues will likely be worth the price of admission.  We’ll see if that’s true in December.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Comic Picks #191: Fables — THE END

August 19, 2015

My thoughts on volumes 21 & 22 as the series wraps up in a satisfying way that still isn't on par with the best it has had to offer.

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