November 30, 2015
Is there anything that can stand in your way after you’ve achieved ultimate power? This volume of “One-Punch Man” has the answer: Bureaucracy! With his unbeatable power Saitama should be a shoe-in for joining the S-rank of superheroes after he and Genos go to sign up with the Hero Association. Yet for all of his impressive ability, the title character kind of sucks at taking written exams. So now he’s left hustling the streets to take on enough bad guys to remain active and not be dropped by the Association, and the now S-rank Genos is STILL pestering him for advice on how to become a more powerful hero. Meanwhile, Speed O’ Sound Sonic makes a return and there are rumors of some kind of monster organization going on in the abandoned ghost town of City 2.
Saitama may find ultimate power to be boring and without finding the proper challenges that boredom would start to affect the reader as well. So it’s cool to see writer One find a lateral solution to this problem. Having his protagonist wind up as a sub-rank hero and having to worry about holding on to even that meager bit of success makes for some amusing scenes as he tries to find a bad guy to stop… even though the town was peaceful today! I’m also appreciating artist Yusuke Murata’s ability to frame his scenes for maximum impact. “One-Punch Man” is (so far) free of the excessive bloat that infests most shonen manga, but Murata makes his fight scenes feel much larger than they actually are by knowing exactly what to focus on. Like, say, Saitama’s near-demonic form as he prepares to punch Genos in training. Murata also uses his skills to great comedic effect, as in the two-page close-up of Saitama’s head as he freaks out after learning about the Association’s quotas.
I realize that the bi-monthly release schedule for “One-Punch Man” is brisk compared to other manga (at least until it catches up to the current volume in Japan). Yet it’s well-executed volumes like this that make the wait between new volumes feel much longer than it actually is.
November 29, 2015
I hope everyone reading this had a good Thanksgiving. In addition to hanging out with family and catching up with a cousin I haven’t seen in YEARS, I also discovered the merciless satire of Illuminating Comics. Aside from providing some well-deserved skewering of Marvel’s editorial direction and relaunch frenzy, it has provided the only take on Carol Danvers that I’ve really enjoyed reading. Re-casting the current Captain Marvel as a mean-spirited misanthrope (who has a cat with the best name -- Bitchninja) has resulted in genuine hilarity and made her more interesting than she’s ever been to me. Carol’s new series is being written by the “Agent Carter” showrunners, and it’ll probably turn out alright, but I’d much rather read a new “Captain Marvel” series by the person behind this tumblr. Now I have to manage writing the rest of this post after realizing that this person has also done parodies for the entirety of Hickman’s “Avengers” run...
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November 28, 2015
In a rather large oversight, I failed to mention what will likely be the biggest book of the month in my last roundup of Previews Picks for Image. “The Walking Dead” hits issue #150 in January with a dramatic cover and title, “BETRAYED,” to mark the occasion. Who will Rick be betrayed by? Before we all rush to say Negan, betrayal implies a breach of trust and it’s safe to say that Rick has none for his former adversary. Given the way this series operates, it’s more likely to come from someone we least suspect. Maggie? Michonne? Carl? ...Okay even I’ll admit that last one is (hopefully) mere speculation. That said, the previous volume did indicate that Maggie and Rick now have diverging ideas on how to enforce the law and carry out justice in this new world. Could their views diverge even further in the next six issues for her to stab Rick in the front over it? And will Rick actually survive this betrayal? Glenn didn’t survive the series last major milestone issue. Maybe Rick’s time has finally come with issue #150.
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November 27, 2015
After escaping from his current timeline (again), multiversal special agent Casanova Quinn finds himself in Hollywood without his memory. Now living as Quentin Cassaday, he works as a majordomo for Amiel Boutique, a man of wealth and influence in the community. Boutique has a similar problem to Quinn as the old man can’t recall anything about his life before he was thirty. After an assassin tries to kill Quinn at one of Boutique’s parties, the old man proposes that they work together to solve the mysteries of their respective pasts. This being “Casanova,” it leads them to masked killers speaking an unknown language, Satan boobytrapping Quinn’s car (twice), large triplet assassins, and lots of clever wordplay. Meanwhile, in the backup strips, a group of female killers posing as a rock band -- or is it the other way around -- are jumping through the multiverse trying to kill as many Casanova Quinns as they can get their hands on.
For all of its weirdness, wit, and style, this first volume of “Acedia” can be easily dismissed with a “If you liked the previous volumes, then you’ll like this one too!” It can be hard to follow at times, as well as prone to taking narrative digressions that slow down the story’s momentum, but it is never, ever boring. Yet this is the first volume of the series to not work as a complete story in and of itself. While the first three volumes formed their own kind of interconnected arc, vol. 1 of “Acedia” ends on a very “To Be Continued” note. While I’m not complaining about the prospect of more “Casanova” on the horizon, what we have here isn’t satisfying enough to make the wait feel anything other than immensely frustrating. Yes, even with the utterly amazing art from Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba on display here.
“Acedia” also features back-up stories illustrated by Ba and written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon. While “The Metanauts” isn’t any less inventive or witty than the main story (which it’s eventually revealed to have very strong ties to), it also takes longer to come together. Good thing that Pulitzer Prize-winner Chabon has Fraction to carry him with the main story.
November 25, 2015
(The podcast is running late this week due to some last-minute scheduling issues. If it’s not up by sometime this weekend, then expect it next Wednesday and a new one to follow a week after.)
After delivering the excellent “My Friend Dahmer,” John “Derf” Backderf decided to go mine a (debatably) more pleasant time in his life for this new graphic novel. Between 1979 and 1980, Derf worked as a garbageman and those experiences have been stretched into fiction for “Trashed” which takes place in the present day and follows J.B., a college dropout, as he embarks upon a new career in the world of sanitation. Rather than shatter illusions, this graphic novel shows that the profession is every bit as disgusting as you’d expect. We see J.B. go from a rookie struggling to keep his lunch down when confronted with a “cooker” trash can filled with flies and maggots to a seasoned veteran who barely bats an eye when tasked with picking up water bottles full of pee and used condoms. It’s a dirty job and J.B., his wiseass friend Mike, and (on occasion) his unhinged friend Magee are the ones who do it because it pays a little better than taking tickets at a movie theater.
If you’re expecting a focused narrative from this story, then you’re going to be disappointed. “Trashed” is a rambling series of loosely connected episodes that show J.B. going from one disgusting mess to the next. For me, this wasn’t a problem. J.B. and his friends may not have a whole lot of depth to them, yet they still manage to come off as likeably cynical wiseasses. As a result, it’s fun to see them both suffer through things like picking up fifty bags of dog poo in the rain and find creative ways to take joy in their work. Such as when they take some of the aforementioned doggie mess and leave it for a local thug to find in his mailbox. Derf also uses this story and setup as a way to illuminate his readers on the history of garbage in society and what’s going on with the massive amounts we produce today. Interesting as it may be, it still feels like lecturing at times. At least there’s not much of a story to derail here. Yet what it lacks in narrative urgency, “Trashed” makes up for in the fun it has with this offbeat look at a profession most of us take for granted. Even if I could’ve gone the rest of my life not knowing what a “cooker” is in garbageman terms, I still enjoyed pretty much everything this graphic novel had to offer.
November 23, 2015
My instincts turned out to be right and here we are with the penultimate volume of this series. Scientist Ochiai has successfully managed to transplant his consciousness into the other hybrid, Kanata, and is all set to destroy the Sidonia. Only some quick thinking from the now-promoted Vice Commander Midorikawa manages to avert this crisis. So now everyone can go back to stressing out over the three-pronged assault on the Gauna’s greater cluster ship. This turns into an actual crisis when one of the attack fleets is destroyed by a massive amount of Gauna, who then make their presence known to one of the other fleets, as well as Sidonia itself. Tanikaze is shuffled around through all these events before he’s sent out on his final mission. I’m pretty sure he’s going to save the day, but not after a good portion of the supporting cast has given their lives to stop the menace of the Gauna.
If you detect a noticeable lack of excitement in that summary of events, you’re not mistaken. This fourteenth volume of “Sidonia” finds the series at its most conventional as mangaka Tsutomu Nihei ticks off a lot of the required boxes for this type of story as it heads towards its climax. Surprise reveal of the main bad guy? Check. New threat posed by the alien menace? Check. Intimate encounter before the final battle? Check. (Ugh. I thought you were better than that, Tanikaze. Hopefully it’s just misdirection.) Former antagonist has a change of heart? Check. Hero gets a brand-new ship to fly out for the occasion? Check. I could keep going on, but you get the idea. The delightful weirdness that has distinguished this series is left by the wayside here and its absence is missed. Still, Nihei has done a good enough job of building up his cast and their plight to make this volume quite readable even as it hews mightily towards convention. Now the real question is whether or not the final volume will wind up as one more “checked box” or something wonderfully strange as much of the series has been up to this point.
November 22, 2015
So who is writing “The Dark Knight III?” It was originally solicited as a collaboration between Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello, but the former has made some interesting statements in recent interviews over the past week. Essentially they’ve given the impression that this second sequel is from Azzarello as opposed to a collaboration with Miller. The man himself has said that while he really likes what Azzarello is doing, he’s ready to get back to the characters and world he created with fourth “Dark Knight” story in the future. Given how strongly “Dark Knight” has been associated with Miller, it does feel somewhat disconcerting to hear that someone else is is taking the reins on this series. Azzarello certainly has talent, but you’d think that his experience with “Before Watchmen” would’ve soured him on taking on another classic 80’s series without the input/approval of its original creator. Still, others have said that Miller is simply being humble in order to make sure that Azzarello gets the credit he’s due for “DK3.” Whether it’s an act of true humility, or simply using the new writer as a metaphorical meat shield will likely become clear once the reviews for the first issue start coming in on Wednesday.
Also in these solicitations is a prequel to “DK3,” called “The Last Crusade.” There’s no information about it beyond the fact that it features the Joker, Poison Ivy, Selina Kyle, and “the last Robin.” It also features art from John Romita Jr., marking the first time he’s collaborated with Miller since the “Daredevil” miniseries, “The Man Without Fear,” and his first collaboration with Azzarello. Regardless of how this one-shot turns out, that “Daredevil” series is excellent and worth a spot in the library of any fan of the character.
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November 21, 2015
2015 is coming to a close, and I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned “Eden: It’s an Endless World!” on the blog. So let me reiterate that it’s the one series that I think everyone who visits here regularly should be reading. Full of heady sci-fi concepts and intense action, it never skimps on character development either and has wound up with a diverse cast of interesting, flawed individuals to follow. It’s the rare example of a complete package in terms of comics storytelling for me, and if you happen to find any good deals for volumes one-through-fourteen this coming Black Friday they are definitely worth adding to your physical or digital bookshelf. Plus, the more you buy now, the more likely it is that we’ll get the last four volumes sooner rather than later (especially if the publisher decides to package them in two-in-one editions as I’ve heard they’re considering to do).
In other Dark Horse manga-related news, we got a rare off-con-season licensing announcement from them last week. Kenji Tsuruta’s “Wandering Island” is the story of Mikura Amelia, a free spirited female pilot who runs an air-delivery service to Japan’s small island communities. After finding a strange package in her grandfather’s belongings, Mikura is compelled to find a legendary “wandering island” in the North Pacific to honor his memory -- and for adventure! That’s a premise I can get into, and Tsuruta’s art does promise adventure in its style. However, after a massive 150-page opening chapter, which was collected into a volume in 2011, the series has been published irregularly since 2012. “Irregularly” in this sense meaning that a second volume has yet to be published. That’s disappointing. Then again, that means “Wandering Island” will find itself in some rare company at Dark Horse alongside the “not cancelled, just takes forever to arrive” status of Katsuya Terada’s “The Monkey King.”
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November 20, 2015
Five years ago, I expressed my delight with the cute kitty antics depicted in the first volume of “Chi’s Sweet Home.” The series has reached its conclusion with vol. 12 and the reason you never read another review after the first… is because my feelings on it never really changed. Mangaka Konami Kanata’s art continued to be utterly charming in depicting how Chi interacted with her world, to the point that it rendered most of the kitten’s dialogue redundant. Really, Konata’s art is so expressive that you could probably take out all the words spoken by the non-human characters and still follow the story with little difficulty. There is an attempt to manufacture some last-minute drama as Chi has to decide whether or not to stay with her biological or adoptive family, but if you’ve been reading the series this long then the outcome should be a foregone conclusion. As heartwarming as it is predictable, this is series I can’t recommend enough (to cat lovers like me).
There’s a particular story in the (soon to be next) most recent volume of “My Neighbor Seki” that illustrates why I like this series so much. During the re-take of a test, one which Yokoi passed and Seki failed miserably, shenanigans ensue. Yokoi is predictably distracted as Seki resorts to rolling his marked pencil like a die, dowsing, and hypnosis for the correct answers. This is amusing in itself, but I was pretty concerned for Yokoi as her mind was clearly elsewhere during this test. Yet she does even better this time around… only for the story to end with Yokoi demanding the teacher to do another re-test as Seki came out on top this time.
Lesser creators would’ve punished Yokoi for her distractability and reveled in the fact that Seki’s bizarre stratagems led him to victory this time around. Yet there’s real good-hearted humor to be had in seeing her do better this time around and not being able to enjoy it at all. Sometimes, the other person doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win.
November 18, 2015
Readers with long memories might recall that I was very much looking forward to reading this new graphic novel from brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon when it was announced earlier this year. After titles like “Daytripper” and “B.P.R.D.: Vampire,” and their work as artists on projects from the likes of Joss Whedon, Gerard Way, and Matt Fraction, they established that anything they do is worthy of my attention. Which is why I’m sad to say that “Two Brothers,” based on the novel by Brazilian author Milton Hatoum, is a real disappointment. The “two brothers” of the title are Omar and Yaqub, whose relationship is fractured early on by their shared affections for a neighborhood girl. Yaqub is scarred and sent to his father’s home in Lebanon for five years in the hopes that tensions will die down. It only proves to be the beginning of the end for their relationship as Yaqub emerges as an intelligent introvert, and Omar develops into a carefree wild child.
What follows is how they mature in ways both good and bad over the years and the toll it takes on their family. As an example, the story is narrated by the son of the housekeeper who is also the illegitimate son of one of the brothers. There’s plenty of juicy family drama like that throughout the book and it never quite commits the sin of being a dull read. Ba and Moon’s fantastic black-and-white art is also a joy to behold (as always), bringing the city of Manaus and it surroundings to life in fantastic and vivid detail.
Where “Two Brothers” goes wrong is in how it never really allows us into the heads of the titular characters. Though the story is ostensibly about them, they’re kept at arm’s length by the narrative as we’re constantly being told about their exploits and states of mind by a third party. I never felt immersed in their story, always removed from the action as a result of Ba and Moon’s decision to let someone else narrate Omar and Yaqub’s life. It’s an unfortunate result, as I’m left hoping that whatever these comic creating brothers do next is something more worthy of their undeniable talent.