My procrastination pays off once again! For the past year you could only read this series through the digital copies for sale on Viz’s website. Then they announced a few months back that this excellent superhero manga would be receiving a print release. No doubt to cash in on the upcoming anime adaptation. That has wound up being a move that has paid off for them handsomely. As for me: The wait was worth it. These two volumes of “One-Punch Man” are consistently entertaining as they embrace and make light of the conventions of superhero comics and shonen manga.
Marvel’s “Star Wars” comics are doing very well for them. So well, in fact, that the numbers for those comics alone are nipping at Image’s heels in the direct market. Image sells more actual comics, after taking in ALL of the titles they publish, but the “Star Wars” comics make more money. However, even when the “Star Wars” collections start coming out, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be a dominant force in bookstores or give “The Walking Dead” juggernaut a reason to lose sleep at night. Also, “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” writers Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen have their own Image comics as well. Even with these numbers they still stand to make more from “Southern Bastards” and “The Wicked + The Divine” even though they don’t even sell a tenth of their “Star Wars”-related work. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that the reason these creators are doing this kind of high-profile work on licensed titles is simply to get their names out their to people who wouldn’t have heard about them in any other way and maybe get them to check out their Image work. I hope that’s working for them. Still, it’s kind of a fucked-up situation where the writers of these best-selling titles are making less from them than their lower-profile creator-owned series. You’d think it’d be the other way around, but that’s not how the industry works right now.
Word has been going around for a while now that Marvel is promoting the Inhumans as a replacement for the X-Men as the film rights are still owned by Fox. That situation isn’t going to change anytime soon, and it’s clear that someone at Marvel sees inhumans as a viable alternative to mutants. Why else would they be getting such a push in the form of becoming a significant part of the plot on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” an upcoming movie, and several new “Inhumans” and Inhuman-related comic launches in the next couple of months. Meanwhile, the X-Men are facing down either death or sterilization as a result of the terrigen mists which give the Inhumans their powers and have spread throughout the globe. Regardless of his intentions, “Extraordinary X-Men” writer Jeff Lemire has his work cut out for him in making this plotline not feel like a ham-fisted attempt to subjugate one of its best-loved and most enduring franchises.
I’m at least going to take some solace in the fact that most of the new “Inhumans”-related comics will likely find themselves on the brink of cancellation within a year. Nobody has cared about the “Inhumans” for years and throwing all these comics at readers isn’t going to change things now. The one currently published title that people do like (“Ms. Marvel”) owes none of its success to its title character’s status as an Inhuman. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how Marvel decides to prop up these titles to show that its fans care about the Inhumans enough to make them the next big thing.
What’s the next step in a relationship between two women founded on their shared love of BDSM and respective fetishes for domination and submission? Moving in together. At least, that’s what is on Ally’s mind in the second half of this volume. While there’s plenty of interesting sex play and a whole host of imaginative fetish gear on display here, the real drama comes from seeing how domme Ally and submissive Lisa continue to manage their unfolding relationship. It’s virgin territory for the both of them and I continue to be impressed with how creator Stjepan Sejic mines tension and drama from the believable personal hang-ups of his female protagonists. You can easily understand why Lisa would be angsting about the future of her relationship after hearing her own brother’s marriage woes, yet still find it completely believable to see them swept away when Ally greets her. Same goes for when the domme gets tongue-tied (figuratively -- the literal part belongs to her sub in this volume *rimshot*) about broaching the “moving in” business. Sure, the sexy parts are hot. Yet it’s the characters, drama and humor which keep me reading and anticipating the next volume.
Vol. 3 also introduces another major character, tattoo artist Anne. While her major contribution to the plot is to put a BDSM-themed tattoo on another character’s back, she also serves to illustrate the newcomer’s perspective to bondage. Even if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve already seen her with Ally and Lisa in the backmatter for volumes one and two, it’d be pretty clear to see what direction her arc will be taking simply from her increasing curiosity with her friends’ fetish here. Predictability aside, Sejic gives her some funny moments as she learns that there’s more to BDSM than pure pain and fleshes out her personality against her friend Cassie (the one who’s getting the tattoo). Anne used to be the wild one in the friendship, but the tables have turned as of late. Her newbie’s perspective on things is still fun to behold though the real test will be seeing if Sejic can make a credible threesome between Anne, Lisa, and Ally. A plot twist like that would normally come off as indulgent (and possibly exploitative). However, I think that the creator stands a good chance of pulling it off based on his strong character work in the series so far.
I picked up a couple volumes of writer Matt Hawkins and artist Rashan Ekedal’s “Think Tank” at Comic-Con and wound up liking their funny, clever, and occasionally quite disturbing look at the exploits of a young scientist whose genius is matched only by his ego and irreverent personality. While that series is currently on hiatus, the two have a new series out with a bit of an identity crisis. You see, “The Tithe” was originally solicited as a series about a group of thieves led by a hacker who target corrupt megachurches and the FBI agents tasked with investigating them. The idea being that there would not only be drama from seeing the heists performed and churches exposed, but the moral dilemma facing the agents as the churches being targeted pretty much deserve everything that’s coming to them. I thought that sounded like a pretty solid hook to build a series out of.
It might not seem like a big one, but the catch is that story I just described is the entire volume. While Hawkins and Ekedal deliver on the thrilling heists and moral quandaries, things wind up feeling a little rushed and hackneyed by the end. Particularly in the way most of the thieves aren’t really developed as characters and that the disintegration of their group hinges on a person who they shouldn’t have been working with in the first place. The new status quo established in the final also establishes this story as simply the one the creators had to do in order to tell the one they actually wanted.
I’ll admit that what’s here is good enough to make me come back for vol. 2. I also appreciated the supplemental material supplied by Hawkins about the characters, tithing in general, corruption in the churches, and his own struggles with faith. Of course, the writer’s efforts to explain that this series isn’t a hatchet job on churches and Christianity in general would hold more water if he hadn’t called this series “The Tithe” or played up the “robbing corrupt churches” as the hook for the series. Entertaining overall, but with noticeable room for improvement.
This final volume is a collection of side stories and an epilogue that sends the series out on a high note. The most substantial (in terms of page count) is the opening three-part story about Viv and her arrival in France and the first time she saw Maria in action. While I can see what mangaka Masayuki Ishikawa is getting at here -- the reason the two witches get along is because they’re so much alike -- it actually winds up undermining Viv’s character. She made a nice, sassy counterpart to Marai in the main series, but that’s all tossed out the window in order to force this particular plot point (even if it does take place in the recent past). The two stories that follow are, respectively, amusing and interesting bits of fluff as Maria argues with her familiars about whose turn it is to get water for dinner, and meets Joseph for the first time. They’re fine for the stories they’re telling and don’t really add to or take away from the overall quality of the series.
It’s the final story, the epilogue, which really stands out. Taking place several years after the end of the series, we don’t get to see Maria or Joseph at all. Instead, the focus is on their daughter, Ezekiel. Though Maria has forsaken her powers as a witch, some of the objects she enchanted still have theirs as we see Eze take her mother’s flying stick out for a ride. That sequence itself is a silent and beautiful expression of childhood joy as Eze zips along the sky and thrills at seeing the world in a way people would normally never get a chance to. Then she meets and has a conversation with a particular someone that ties up one of the threads at the end of the previous volume in a very satisfying fashion. Easily the highlight of the volume, and probably of the series itself. It may have been more uneven in quality than I would’ve liked, yet “Maria the Virgin Witch” at least manages to end quite well.
Now can we get more “Moyasimon,” please?
Dark Horse has a new editor in chief as Dave Marshall replaces Scott Allie as the latter moves on to pursue other projects. While I certainly hope that the company benefits from the move, we now have an indication about how it’ll affect their publishing of Japanese titles. Anime News Network reached out to Carl Horn about the move and got the response that the company is planning to increase its output of Japanese titles by 25% in 2016. Horn also noted that this number may increase as Dark Horse is still finalizing its publishing plans for next year. Good news, right?
Depends on how you want to look at it. When Horn says “Japanese Titles,” he’s including novels and artbooks in that description. He even cites two artbooks, “The Art of ‘The Evil Within’” and “Dragon Girl and Monkey King: The Art of Katsuya Terada” that were originally published by the company and eventually received Japanese-language editions. Consider that the “Hyrule Historia” was one of the most successful projects from the company in quite some time and I’m inclined to believe this 25% increase in the publication of Japanese titles will likely consist of artbooks, licensed and original ones.
Of course, I could be wrong. I’d be happy to be wrong. I’m not a big consumer of artbooks like the ones mentioned above unless they’re part of a series I feel really passionate about (see: “The Art of ‘Blade of the Immortal’”) so an increase in these projects doesn’t excite me. That said, unless “I Am A Hero” hits big when the first volume comes out in April, I don’t think we can expect to see a 25% increase in the amount of manga published by the company.
Even for a large company, a two million dollar budget shortfall is still cause for concern. That’s the issue facing DC at the moment and they’re scrambling for a plan to do something about it. While most of the shortfall is said to be attributed to costs incurred from the East-to-West Coast move, the news broke at a time when the sales numbers for May -- the “DC You” mini-relaunch in the wake of the “Convergence” event -- came out. The numbers were… not as good as everyone was hoping for. As a result, there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on right now that the company’s effort to reach a larger audience by publishing a more diverse selection of titles is going to be walked back in favor of a more conservative approach.
That’s a short-term answer to a long-term problem and will likely see only further diminishing returns for the company. It was said that the new “DC You” titles would be given at least a year to see how things shake out and the company should at least stay the course for that long. If DC is going to be spooked at just the hint of adversity in trying to reach a broader audience than those who go to the comic shops each Wednesday, then they deserve whatever’s coming to them.
And on that note we turn to something lighter...
You know, it’s been… *goes to check the publication date on “Hellboy vol. 5: Conqueror Worm”* thirteen years since Hellboy quit the B.P.R.D. It’d be quite an understatement to just say that a lot has happened in that time, but seeing the title character reunite with the organization he grew up with is not likely to happen ever again. Which is why we have “1952” the first in a “series of miniseries” detailing the exploits of a young(er) Hellboy and his first mission for the B.P.R.D. Said mission takes him and four other members of the organization down to Terroso, Brazil, where thirty-three villagers have been murdered by an apparently superhuman creature. Arriving in the dead of night, the team gets the cold shoulder from the local priest but soon finds themselves face-to-face with the Anchunga. Encountering and taking down just one demon would’ve made this mission a virtual milk run for Hellboy and company. Problem is that not only is there a much more ancient evil lurking in the shadows, a face -- or rather, a head -- familiar to the B.P.R.D. is looking to co-opt it for his own ends.
In addition to Ancient Evil, we’ve also got laboratory-enhanced monkeys, humans frankensteined together into unfeeling killing machines, Nazis, and the return of the cutest little Russian girl ever to come out of the pits of Hell. So “1952” doesn’t skimp on the weird supernatural stuff you’d expect to see in a “Hellboy”-related comic. However, it does feel a bit warmed-over at this point with a lot of familiar plot points -- like Hellboy’s role as the Beast of the Apocalypse -- getting name-checked here for good measure. Co-writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi also throw in a lot of callbacks to other stories in the Mignolaverse, but the dynamic of seeing Hellboy as part of a team helps set this story apart. Even if it’s not the focus, it’s still fun to see the title character interact with experienced professionals in this kind of weirdness Never mind the fact that one of the crew is out to kill him...
Still, the real selling point for me here was the art from Alex Maleev. I’m used to seeing good art from creators I’ve never heard of on most Mignolaverse titles, but Maleev is probably the highest-profile artist on a Mignolaverse book. He also lays down the lines like he’s been working on “Hellboy” titles for years. It’s clean, confident work that isn’t too far removed from Mignola’s precise, evocative linework. Yet the artist’s shadowy detail and strong design sense -- look at that crazy Nazi tech -- makes me wish he was doing more than just this volume. The story may be familiar, yet it’s comforting and elevated by Maleev’s art. An easy purchase for fans/followers of the Mignolaverse.