November 16, 2015
Dozle’s arc in the previous volume will likely go down as the emotional high point of this series for me. But I’ll be damned if mangaka Yoshikazu Yasuhiko doesn’t serve up a chaotically epic final battle between the Federation and Zeon forces here. While the Federation forces were able to fry Solomon Base in the previous volume with their own solar array, Zeon’s Supreme Commander Ghiren has his own super-laser ready to unleash against the forces allied against him at A Baoa Qu. Even though this act decimates the opposition, it has consequences that will come back to haunt him as his sister Kycilia enters the battle. Meanwhile, the Federation forces are down but not out as Capt. Noa hits upon a risky strategy to keep them in the fight and Amuro looks to settle things once and for all with Char. Toss in Sayla/Artesia’s gambit and you’ve got a whole lot of moving parts in play that could wind up being a giant mess if they’re not handled in the right way.
Yasuhiko, however, is a consummate professional and he makes threading the narrative through all of the many plots and shifting ambitions look easy. There’s plenty of action on display as the Federation and Zeon forces clash outside A Baoa Qu, yet it’s the twists supplied by the human drama behind the scenes that will keep you glued to the page. I also have to hand it to Yasuhiko for giving a minor character named Willy Macho (of all things…) a surprisingly affecting character arc that changes the shape of the battle after he finds who this captive Federation soldier really is. Unfortunately, the mangaka never really got me to care too much about Lalah and her fate here -- despite its artistic pyrotechnics -- left me unmoved. At least the Amuro/Char rivalry starts getting some real traction here, even as it seems that Zeon’s ace is going through this narrative with some kind of “unlimited lives” cheat enabled. Still, the pace has picked up considerably, and the final volume can’t come soon enough for me as a result.
November 15, 2015
How does Magneto deal with the Final Incursion that heralds “Secret Wars?” By pulling lots of strings to become more powerful than he ever has in order to repel the other Earth and ensure that mutants live to see tomorrow. Despite his good intentions, this is Magneto at his most self-aggrandizing and ruthless. Oh, he wants to save the world all right. Except that it’s all in service of the man trying to define how history will perceive him after all the other crimes and atrocities he has perpetrated over the years. Then you have the means by which he acquires the power he needs to pull off the feat of repelling two worlds, and they are morally dubious at best. Particularly with what happens to his daughter, Polaris. For all of the lip service Magneto pays to being a bad dad after all these years, it just turns out to be convenient lie to justify his actions in the end.
It’s compelling stuff from writer Cullen Bunn. He’s got a solid understanding of how Magneto’s mind works, which allows him to bring up some old continuity from the comics and use it to reinforce his points without bringing the narrative to a grinding halt. As a result, the Master of Magnetism’s final moments feel both appropriate and inevitable. It’s a good use of the “Last Days” setup, which is good because the scale and power-oriented nature of the story are at odds with the relatively grounded take on the character over the past three volumes. Interestingly, guest artist Paul Davidson does a better job with depicting Magneto’s escalating power levels for the first three issues than regular artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, who turns up for the final issue in otherwise fine form for the drama it’s presenting. I would’ve liked to have seen Bunn do more with Magneto the vigilante and rebuilder of Genosha from the previous volumes, but sales and crossovers did not allow for that. What we got for these twenty-one issues was still pretty entertaining on its own terms and something that bodes well for Bunn’s Magneto/villain-centric take on “Uncanny X-Men” in the near future.
November 14, 2015
This is an epic miniseries with some appropriately epic flaws as well. First off: If you haven’t read Grant Morrison’s previous big event comic, “Final Crisis,” then I suggest you do that now. Because that’s where Nix Uotan -- last of the multiversal Monitors -- was introduced along with other sinister story beats that follow here. Nix doesn’t stick around long as he gets sucked into the multiverse-destroying plans of the Gentry, but not before getting one hero out with the call to summon the rest. That leads us through six stories about other heroes in the multiverse, “The Society of Superheroes,” “The Just,” “Pax Americana,” “Thunderworld Adventures,” “Mastermen,” and “Ultra Comics” as well as a guidebook to further flesh things out. These one-shots are all deeply interconnected regarding the over-arching narrative of the threat to the multiverse. Yet even if they further the core story, not all of them work as satisfying stories in and of themselves. “Thunderworld” is the only one that delivers the complete package, while the likes of “Society of Superheroes” and “The Just” end in cliffhangers never to be given proper resolution.
Still, Morrison’s ambition with these stories is grand enough that there’s entertainment to be had even in the ones that don’t quite work. “Society” still offers some real pulp excitement, “Pax Americana” delivers some amazing formalist thrills in its structure (which also shows the “Before Watchmen” crowd how to properly troll Alan Moore via that seminal work), and “Ultra Comics” is a heady metafictional rush. Helping matters immensely is that all of these stories feature a stellar group of artists working at the top of their respective games. From the slick precision of Chris Sprouse, the energetic cartoonishness of Cameron Stewart, to the meticulous design of Frank Quitely, to the bold superhero stylings of Jim Lee, to the lushness of Ben Oliver, and the magnetic weirdness of Doug Mahnke, all of the artists here turn in work that shows you why they’re considered to be some of the best in the business. Particularly Ivan Reis in the bookend issues, who really sells the epic-level spectacle of the event while doing a frankly impressive job of rendering Morrison’s utterly weird ideas on the page.
I wouldn’t have minded more from the whole event, such is the quality of its individual parts. Yet “The Multiversity’s” biggest issue is the “To Be Continued” aspect that hangs over just about every aspect of it. From the issues showcasing the multiverse to the bookends, you’re consistently left hanging in the end (except “Thunderworld” which is why it’s the best of the bunch). The final issue is the biggest offender as while the reveal of the true nature of the force behind the Gentry is revealed, the ultimate confrontation is put off until a later date. Given how long it took “The Multiversity” to arrive, we could be waiting quite a while to see its ultimate resolution. Until then, this miniseries offers so much to take in and digest that pouring over it until such a time as its follow-up is announced doesn’t seem all that bad. Probably best described as an “ambitious failure,” but the world would be a much better place if all failures were as ambitious (and fun) as this one.
November 13, 2015
Are you ready to overthrow the patriarchy? Well that’s too damn bad because it’s too rich, clever, and well-entrenched to surrender to any kind of head-on attack. But what if some very clever women played the men’s game well enough to find themselves in the right place at just the right time to take out a testicle or two? Then you have the first volume of “Bitch Planet” by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists Valentine De Landro (and guest artist Robert Wilson IV). It’s a sci-fi spin on the women in prison exploitation trope with a bit of “The Longest Yard” mixed in for good measure. It starts off with Koko Kamau, new arrival to the off-world correctional facility nicknamed “Bitch Planet,” who winds up getting caught in a riot and framed for the murder of another inmate. She’s promised her freedom if she can assemble a team of women to play the brutal rugby-esque futuresport known as megaton, to facilitate an inspirational story for the people who run the team. Koko has some other plans, including finding her sister and showing that the patriarchy has picked the wrong woman to mess with.
This is a million miles away from DeConnick’s other Image series, “Pretty Deadly,” in terms of style and entertainment value. Where that title was slow, ponderous, and too arty for its own good, this one is a raucous grindhouse thrill ride. The odds are against the women and the game is rigged, but they’ve got a plan and a willingness to get their knuckles bloody to see it through. That viciousness propels the narrative, but it also has a wide streak of irreverence and humor running through it as well. You can see it from the start when Penny, the book’s plus-size breakout character, cracks a guard upside his head for giving her a prison jumpsuit that’s way too small. Even if there are parts where the book’s message of female empowerment and the evils of men becomes a bit too on-the-nose, its lower sensibilities pull things down before they become terminally high-minded. Vol. 1 of “Bitch Planet” was a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to see where DeConnick and Landro take things next.
November 11, 2015
In which Al Ewing tells a great Loki story, which successfully builds on Kieron Gillen's work with the character.
November 9, 2015
It would appear that mangaka Satsuki Yoshino has found a formula that works for her with “Barakamon.” While I expressed hope that she’d find a way to mix things up, it seems that the series is going to revolve around “Sensei” Honda slowly growing more acquainted with the quirks of the rural coastal village he’s found himself in. Along with its inhabitants. Notable plot points from this volume involve Honda getting addicted to pickled vegetables, finding out why he can never own a cat, getting admitted to a hospital for exhaustion, dealing with schoolgirl Tama’s manga aspirations and fujoshi fantasies, and taking all the kids in the supporting cast down to the beach. It’s amusing enough, but what we get here is forcing me to break out the “if you didn’t like the first volume, don’t bother with the second” review cliche. I’d like to say that the appearance of two of Honda’s friends at the end of the volume has the potential to shake things up, but I know better after reading this series so far.
There are times that I’m glad I order most of my comics through Amazon. If anyone has the guts to buy a copy of the latest volume of “Pandora in the Crimson Shell” in public -- with THIS cover -- know that you’re a far braver person than I. As for the manga itself, it continues to be an amusing yet harmless sci-fi action comedy. The threat of Buer is stopped and Nene winds up with administrator control of Clarion after Sahar ditches their escape. Now, Nene is living with Clarion in her Aunt’s home, though her initial escapade on the island of Cenancle is turning out to have more far-reaching consequences than she imagined. The fanservice bits only cause me to roll my eyes at their lecherous shamelessness (like that cover, yeeesh…) and are a bit more frequent than I’d like. In its favor, it looks like the plot is shaping up to be a bit more complex than I initially thought and Nene is at least an adorably ditzy heroine.
On one hand, things get better for the title character of “The Heroic Legend of Arslan” as he winds up recruiting the mercurial yet brilliant tactician Narsus through some clever reasoning. On the other, Ecbatana, his home and the capital of the Parsian Empire, is brought under relentless siege by the Lusitanians. This volume effectively makes some good progress towards building up Arslan so we can eventually believe he’ll have a heroic legend while fleshing out the opposing Lusitanian forces and other players on the periphery of this conflict. As she did with “Fullmetal Alchemist,” mangaka Hiromu Arakawa makes switching between the horrors of war and goofy slapstick work without compromising either. While I’m not planning on rushing out to get caught up on “Barakmon” anytime soon, the odds of that happening in regards to “Arslan” are significantly higher.
November 8, 2015
My initial thought regarding this volume was that Kieron Gillen had decided to do away with the delicate balance of terror that has defined his series so far. Much of the drama from “Uber” has come from seeing both sides take shots at each other, with neither ever quite gaining the upper hand. That changes here as Hitler’s “Great Burn” plan is enacted and the German Uber forces march across Europe, leaving nothing but warped and charred ruins in their wake. It’s due to this that the British forces finally decide to send their monstrous Battleship-class Uber, the H.M.H. Churchill, into combat. Though she appears to be neigh well indestructible, this woman has had little experience in actual combat. She’s also afraid of heights. Meanwhile, the Russians are trying to find ways to create their own Battleship so they can finally be done with the obstinate Mariya, the Japanese make their last stand at Okinawa, and the Americans continue to train their own Battleships. Which is good for them because the war is coming their way whether they want it to or not.
To say that things go badly for the British here is something of an understatement. The delicate balance of terror is done away with here as the volume ends with the momentum firmly on the side of the Germans. I was disappointed to see this, until I realized what this meant for the overall narrative. Unless Gillen pulls out a twist for the next volume, we’re heading into the endgame now. So it’s only natural that things will have reached their lowest ebb for the Allied forces. Which will lead them to turn things around, but not without some pain, and eventually put an end to the German threat. Personally, I’m hoping that either Vernon or Freddie, the two African-American Battleships, give that smug racist Siegfried the ass-whipping he has deserved since the start of the series. This is what I’m expecting from the next volume, but Gillen doesn’t really deal in predictability with his stories. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, even if I’m not sure I’m actually going to like it.
November 7, 2015
In case anyone was keeping track from last week’s “Image Previews Picks,” a re-read has confirmed that this is the best thing Warren Ellis has done in quite a while. This isn’t a complete break from what the writer has been doing. It’s more like a re-focusing of his strengths which helps remind longtime readers like me what he’s capable of. “Trees” was a step in the right direction, but this is the real deal. Complete with art from Declan Shalvey that perfectly complements the story. Which happens to be about five specialists who decide to combine science and the supernatural to make the future more interesting.
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November 6, 2015
I only lasted one volume on “Low.” “Black Science” is starting to wear out its welcome. I’m not sure if I’ll be giving “Tokyo Ghost” and “Devolution” a chance when they’re collected in trades. Yet I think “Deadly Class” may wind up being the one creator-owned project from Rick Remender that I wind up sticking with for the long haul. Yes, a whole lot of bad things happen to protagonist Marcus Lopez and his friends, to the point where it could start to come off like a depressing grind. The difference here is that it happens to be so damn much fun at the same time. Like the way this volume hits the ground running from the cliffhanger we left off on as Marcus and maybe-still-kinda-girlfriend Maria outrun vengeful cartel killers through explosions and fire on the streets of San Francisco. It’s a bravura two-issue action sequence illustrated by Wes Craig that fires at full tilt through the very end and is amped up even further by the emotions Remender has his characters pour into it. Teen melodrama is far more entertaining to behold when it involves a girl in skull-face makeup setting her opponents on fire and lopping their heads off with a well-placed strike of her fan.
After that, the story shifts back to Kings Dominion and Marcus and his crew start dealing with the fallout from their nighttime raid in their own ways. That is to say, the story doesn’t slow down -- it just gets crazy in a whole new way. With two deaths on his conscience, Marcus slinks into a drug-fueled haze that only serves to alienate his other friends. Which is an even worse thing than it sounds as his paranoia and opportunistic classmates start to get the better of him. There may be a lot of talking heads here, but it doesn’t stop Craig from investing the school scenes with the same delirious energy -- and a healthy dose of psychedelics in one stretch -- he brought to the opening arc. While these scenes also find Remender up to his old tricks of grinding his protagonist down, the difference here is that Marcus brings most of these problems upon himself and is just unlikeable enough to be interesting. So it’s a lot of fun to see him suffer, and wonder if he’ll eventually recognize his self-destructive tendencies and change before he winds up dead because of them. “Deadly Class” ultimately proves that teenage angst is at its most entertaining when the kids are allowed to play out their desires to their fullest tilt (see also, “Battle Royale”). It’s also a thrilling dose of over-the-top fun that leaves me anticipating the next volume -- unlike Remender’s other above-mentioned projects.
November 4, 2015
For those of you keeping track at home, another character’s “mutant” status has now been retconned away. It started with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch revealed not to be Magneto’s children or mutants in the pages of “Axis” and “Uncanny Avengers.” Now it turns out that Squirrel Girl has never been a mutant either! WHERE WILL THE MADNESS STOP? Only when Marvel has re-appropriated all of the mutants they can for their film and TV projects from Fox. Interestingly, Fox hasn’t batted an eye at Marvel’s actions here, which indicates that they couldn’t care less about these retcons. After all, they still have Wolverine. And Deadpool. And Magneto. And Professor X. And I could go on here, but I think you get the picture.
Still, one does have to wonder about what Marvel has in mind for Squirrel Girl for them to make this kind of move. Probably to be the Avengers’ ace-in-the-hole when it comes to taking down Thanos in the “Infinity War” movies. She does have a history of taking down the Mad Titan in the comics after all.
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