December 18, 2015
The Wolverine we know is still dead, but it’s really hard to miss him when we have X-23 taking his place in the “Wolverine” series and the title character here joining the X-Men and getting his own ongoing series as well. In fact, Old Man Logan is functionally identical to his younger counterpart, save for one defining tragedy (that he eventually got over) and a lot more grizzled crankiness. This version of the character was created by Mark Millar a few years back and his story was quite popular. Hence, the reason why we’re getting “Old Man Logan” as a “Secret Wars: Warzones” series. I didn’t care much for Millar’s story thanks to his usual awful dialogue, paper-thin characterizations, and plot twists that were primed for shock value more than anything else. As this series comes to us from Bendis, it has far better dialogue, reveals that are at least somewhat surprising, and (for what it’s worth) a better overall stab at characterization.
Yet Millar’s story actually functioned as one and took the character on a journey that did have a point to it. Bendis… Well, he decides to take us on a sightseeing tour of Battleworld after an Ultron head falls down from the sky one day and Old Man Logan gets curious about where it came from. So he climbs the wall of his domain, mixes it up with one of the Thors, winds up in domains ruled by Apocalypse, Tony Stark, the Marvel Zombies, and a kind of approximation of the pre-”Secret Wars” Marvel Universe before being spat out into the current continuity. Oh, and it’s implied that because his crossing through several worlds was so impressive that he’s destined to play some key role in the finale of this event. We’ll see about that.
It doesn’t really add up to much overall, even if the first issue does recall some of the gritty appeal of the writer’s “Daredevil” work. That’s also thanks to artist Andrea Sorrentino, who turns in striking work throughout the series and elevates the product overall. Bendis does demonstrate a decent grasp of the character here, but I’m left wishing that someone like Jason Aaron (who has demonstrated an even better handle on Wolverine) had been let loose to run wild with the setup established by Millar. I’d still take Bendis’ version over Millar’s, but after reading both I know that I wouldn’t have missed much if I’d decided to skip reading them in the first place.
December 16, 2015
This is a story that should have sold gangbusters… about a decade ago. As it is right now, it’s just one more disappointing signpost on the road to the end of the Ultimate Universe. The story involves a crossover between the Ultimate and 616 Marvel Universes after the time-stranded X-Men head off to meet a powerful new mutant who has just shown up on Cerebro. Said mutant has the power to jump between the dimensions and after her initial encounter with these young X-Men goes bad, she winds up jumping them to the Ultimate Universe. There, the team is split up and has separate encounters with everyone from Miles Morales to Doctor Doom (back with the cloven hoof he had when Warren Ellis wrote him).
I might be tempted to say that “The Ultimate Adventure’s” biggest problem is that its existence is an admission that Marvel has run out of ideas for this once-great imprint. Except that the Ultimate Universe’s role in “Secret Wars” has already put paid to that idea. With that taboo broken, you get the feeling that Bendis is making the most of the limited amount of time he has to play around in the universe he helped define. The good news is that we get some decent banter between the cast, decent action, and lively art from Mahmud Asrar (loved the two-page spreads with Jean using her psychic powers to get info from Miles and Ultimate Jean). Unfortunately, this is also a rather aimless story that culminates in a rather pointless showdown at Doom’s castle before the team finds the mutant who got this whole mess started and returns home -- but not before Bendis indulges himself a bit more.
To be honest, I could see myself enjoying this story if it had been released before “Ultimatum” knocked a good portion of the Universe down. The All-New team could’ve interacted with more clearly-defined versions of these characters (save Miles) and the decision to not “go big” for most of the story might’ve come off as refreshing. As it is, “The Ultimate Adventure” comes off like a trip back to a neighborhood you used to live in that serves as a reminder as to why you left in the first place.
December 14, 2015
Now here’s a title that I really wanted to like because of its premise. It starts off with a jobless otaku shut-in being kicked out of his family’s house -- because staying inside his room during his parents’ funeral was the last straw -- and the immediately dying after pushing a couple out of the way of a truck. Death is only the beginning of this adventure, as the 34-year-old man is reborn as a baby in a medieval fantasy world. The catch here is that he also retains all of the mental faculties his 34-year-old self possessed, so young Rudy has a huge head start in life and he’s determined not to make the same mistakes again. Though his dad wanted him to be a swordsman, the kid demonstrates a great aptitude for magic, and we see him learning more about it from his teacher Roxy over the years as he puts all of the knowledge and presence-of-mind from his past life to work. The idea that someone worthless is doing his best to make the most of his second chance is a compelling one and seeing Rudy slowly overcome the hang-ups from his previous life was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end.
It wasn’t easy, though. That’s because this volume’s biggest stumbling block is that Rudy’s actions tend to make him come off as a smug little creep more often than not. Even if he is a 34-year-old in a kid’s body, it’s still creepy to see him enjoy being clutched to his new mother’s ample bosom more than he should, take a vested interest in his parents’ baby-making sessions, refer to the stolen panties of his teacher as his treasure, or argue circles around his dad while sporting a know-it-all grin. All these things make it really hard to warm up to Rudy as a character. Though you could argue that these negative character traits are part of the issues from his past life that need to be overcome, that’s not how they’re presented in the story. The writing, from original light novel writer Rifun Na Magonote, tends to set these things up as jokes, while the art from Fujikawa Yuka really plays up the skeeziness of Rudy’s actions and tends to emphasize fanservice whenever it can during the volume. In short, this first volume has problems that its creators don’t seem to regard as problems. It makes me hesitant to pick up the next volume to see if things get better, because how much improvement can there be if the creators have a mindset like that?
December 13, 2015
Save for the “Endless Nights” graphic novel in the early aughts, Neil Gaiman has been away from “The Sandman” for quite some time. When a creator is away from their signature creation/character/series for an extended period of time, some people always start to worry about how any kind of revisitation of that material is going to turn out. People like to cite Frank Miller and “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” as being an example of how bad this can go in comics -- though I’m willing to bet they’ve never had the displeasure of following up Kenichi Sonoda’s “Gunsmith Cats” with its disparaging sequel “Burst.”
However, Gaiman’s talent has continued to burn brightly in the years since he stopped chronicling the adventures of Dream of the Endless on a monthly basis. Aside from going on to become a bestselling novelist, his comics work in the intervening years has been pretty entertaining as well. So when it was announced that Gaiman was going to return to “The Sandman,” with story illustrated by J.H. Williams III, there was good reason to be excited for it. Excitement that turns out to be fully justified in the end. “Overture” is proof that sometimes you really can go home again and find it just as welcoming as when you left.
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December 12, 2015
There have been a couple questions hanging over Bendis’ incarnation of this team ever since it was formed. Namely, “How did Starlord, Drax, and Thanos survive the destruction of the Cancerverse?” and “Why did they make it back when Richard ‘Nova’ Rider didn’t?” These are questions that needed to be answered since these character were pretty much left for dead at the end of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s “The Thanos Imperative.” With “Original Sin,” Bendis finally gets around to answering them about as well as you’d expect. If your expectations were like me, however, that translates to “not very.”
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December 11, 2015
Now here’s the kind of volume I like to see from this series. It offers several stories that are entertaining on their own merits while also furthering the title’s long-term storytelling. Things get off to a great start with Ian snarkily waking up from a nightmare and proceeding to troll Casey for her presumably doomed attempt to become the next head of the student council. He then proceeds to visit the library and winds up getting glimpses of the past, present, and future as they somewhat relate to him. Next up is Dr. Richmond and we get to see her history with Vanessa and how that informs her present. Then we have a Jade-centric story where we learn that she has an incredible power. One that comes with a pretty large drawback. Closing out the volume, we see Irina after she was rescued by Ms. Clarkson in the past, and the co-opted by the Academy in the present. She’s got a new mission now: Killing a member of the cast who I wouldn’t mind seeing die all over again!
These stories strike a good balance between being self-contained and relevant to the overall plot. To the point that you wish writer Nick Spencer managed to hit this balance more often in this series. You come out of each story learning a bit more about the character(s) who serve as the focus, and wanting to know what’s going to happen to them from here. That’s particularly true of Dr. Richmond’s tale as it takes a character I had lost all familiarity with before opening this volume, and made her struggle to connect with her daugher at the Academy surprisingly tense and involving. Jade’s story feels like a big piece of the overall puzzle, even if the ability she’s revealed to have is going to need a really good explanation to feel credible and not simply “plot magic.” It was also nice to see how much of a handful Irina could be to adults who didn’t know how to handle her, and the thought of Ike moving into politics… Well, who wouldn’t want to see where that’s going?
Thinking about it more, the flashback (and flash-forward) nature of the stories here really feel like a strong callback to this title’s biggest inspiration, “Lost.” Their use here reminds me how entertaining such devices can be when done right. Even so, what’s here isn’t quite good enough to get me to tell people who haven’t started reading this title that they should jump on. If you haven’t, then you’re still better off waiting to see how this all turns out in the end. For the committed, vol. 9 offers a bit more hope that this crazy train will lead somewhere worthwhile in the end.
December 9, 2015
In which I'm reminded that there is no series that doesn't read better when you go through it all at once... But it reads best if you're a guy who's still in touch with his inner 15-year-old.
December 7, 2015
I didn’t bother to review the final part of “Part 1” as I would’ve just been repeating what I said about this series for its first two volumes: There were glimmers of potential, but things hadn’t come together just yet. Fortunately, “Part 2” kicks off with the kind of craziness that I like to see from this series. The story picks up in 1938, 49 years after the end of the first part, as Speedwagon has discovered a set of ruins with a connection to the mask that gave Dio his power. Venturing further into them, Speedwagon and his crew find a man in stasis inside a pillar and BETRAYAL! (By someone I had to go back and crack open vol. 3 of “Part 1” in order to remember who he was.) Now it’s up to charmingly goofy rapscallion Joseph Joestar to use his burgeoning hamon powers to take on this new menace when it comes for him in New York, and then to Mexico where he finds out that the Nazis have seized the Pillar Man for their own ends. The only problem for them is that his is a power so great that it’ll require them to team up with Joseph in order to put it down.
So yeah, things are already substantially crazier here than they were in “Phantom Blood.” Toss in mangaka Hirohiko Araki’s gleefully over-the-top version of 1930’s New York -- where Joseph punches a cop’s finger up his nose and then proceeds to manhandle some mafiosos -- and you’ve got a series that is finally starting to hit its stride. This isn’t something you’re going to want to read for its plot, as the volume is pretty much one long string of fight scenes strung together by lots of jibber-jabber about why they need to happen. The joy of “Jojo’s” lies in seeing just how bizarre things can get: Either through the outlandish twists in each fight (Where did those grenades come from!) or the defiantly strange stylization Araki puts into his art. It also helps that Joseph is a much more charismatic protagonist than his grandfather. Thoroughly reckless, but with a good heart and fighting smarts, he adds a lot of energy to the proceedings. It’s easy to see why Joseph was kept around for “Part 3,” and waiting for “Jojo’s” to catch up to that just became far less of a slog with this volume.
December 6, 2015
Kieron Gillen’s arc of this series comes with two narratives. The one that takes place 75,000 years ago hinges on the scientific fact that mankind was on the verge of extinction at the time with potentially as few as 2,000 humans alive. While the eruption of a supervolcano and the resulting climate change it caused is thought to be the reason for this, that’s not the whole truth. No, the real reason is that there was a brutal empire of blood red-skinned humans dedicated to raping and torturing everyone who was not them! We get an up close look at this empire through the perspective of a young tribal man and his friends who are kidnapped and brought to its heart for bloodsport. As for the one that takes place in the present, it concerns an anthropologist who claimed to have found proof of this ancient empire. Though he was ridiculed for his theories, one of his students recalls his work and convinces a group of survivors to track down the man’s research in the hopes that it might lead to a cure for the Crossed plague.
If you think that the present day story isn’t going to end badly, then I welcome you to “Crossed” and recommend that you start reading with the Garth Ennis-written first volume of the series. Which is still the best of them. Gillen’s effort is one of the better stories not written by the title’s creator as it manages to avoid wallowing in gore, violence, and general depravity for their own sakes. There’s still plenty of these things -- this is “Crossed” after all -- with people being turned into living chairs being one of the more memorable bits. However, if you’re wondering about the logic about how an empire of psychopaths exists within the world of “Crossed,” Gillen has you covered. You’ll just have to stick around to the end to find out. The writer also downplays his trademark wit in the story, using it mainly to deliver some morbid and/or pitch black humor.
Art comes from Rafa Ortiz. The best thing I can say about his work here is that it gets the job done. He’s decent with the violent bits and character drama, but there’s a lack of refinement to his style that undermines the visuals. If you told me that this was his first major comics work, I would not be surprised. While he’s got potential as an artist, the double-page splashes meant to show the scale of the ancient empire show that he’s got a ways to go. At least there’s still enough depth here for me to recommend this volume to fans of “Crossed” thanks to Gillen’s writing. It’s not one of his best works, but it’s another reminder that he can do worthwhile work outside of the genres that made him famous.
December 5, 2015
For everyone who enjoyed the Fraction/Aja run on this series, new writer Jeff Lemire and artist Ramon Perez are here to let you know that the party is now over. The new guys are smart enough to know that they have to take things in a different direction than the previous creative team. Problem is that the new direction they’ve picked isn’t all that interesting. I place most of the blame for this on Lemire as his work here feels like a combination of phoning things in while rehashing ideas and stylistic tricks that worked better on his signature series “Sweet Tooth.” Take the volume’s main plot device: the mutant kids that Clint Barton and Kate Bishop rescue from a Hydra installation. They’re weird, creepy, and possessed of powers that can explode and/or liquefy a human, but they’re still kids and have a right to live like normal ones. Right? Not if our heroes’ plan includes subsequently rescuing them from S.H.I.E.L.D., having the kids live in their apartment for awhile, and THEN LETTING HYDRA TAKE THEM BACK because they’re really really dangerous and one of the jobs of Hawkeye is to make the hard decisions. Great work there Lemire. I’m feeling a lot more confident about your upcoming run on “Extraordinary X-Men” now.
To his credit, Lemire at least offers up some decent banter between the Hawkeyes as well as a serviceable look at the childhoods of Clint and Barney Barton after they ran away from their abusive father to join the circus. The flashback scenes also serve as a great showcase for Perez’s skills -- particularly with the watercolors -- and feature consistently more involving layouts than in the main story. I’d be more impressed with his work if he didn’t appear to be dead set on channelling previous artist David Aja’s style in the present-day sequences. That just serves as a distracting reminder of how much more fun and energetic the Fraction/Aja run was. I’m not saying that Lemire and Perez should have given us a series of done-in-one issues with a comedic bent that slowly bled into drama, but what they’ve given us here certainly qualifies as missing the mark.
The volume ends with the indication that time travel will factor into the story from here on out because the Hawkeyes have made a BIG MISTAKE. So did Marvel in choosing to continue this series. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as what came before. However, I was expecting it to be better than this.