You should all know by now that I didn’t think Brian Wood’s last creator-owned series, “The Massive,” lived up to its potential. “Misguided” is the word I’d use to describe its mix of character-driven eco-political conflicts with a sci-fi/fantasy concept bolted onto the side of it. The concept for “Starve” is a lot more straightforward in the sense that it’s about an immensely popular chef who walked away from the cooking show he created and the life he knew only to be dragged back into it and forced to compete on the monstrosity that his program has now been warped into. I’m not sure if the world is ready for someone to combine “Transmetropolitan” with “Iron Wok Jan,” but that’s what Wood has done here. It’s an approach that appeals to me, and the energy of the first volume really makes me want to like it. That’s, “want to,” not “actually” because there are a few issues here that really drag the book down.
There’s a new teaser from Marvel going around with the words “Dead No More” and a background that indicates it’s “Spider-Man” related. So who’s it going to be? I honestly wouldn’t put it past Marvel to do something crazy like bring back Uncle Ben. I’d bet money on that being the case if Dan Slott is handling the event, if only because he’s the kind of writer who knows that’s the kind of setup you lead with to get everyone interested/excited/angry about things before serving up the twist which reveals that this isn’t what’s actually happening. Hey, if it is Uncle Ben they’re bringing back, then maybe this is all a cover for the return of Doctor Octopus! It would make sense for Slott to bring him back after “killing” the character at the end of “Superior Spider-Man” and if he still has all of Peter’s memories this would be the perfect way to really mess with his arch-nemesis.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong about all this and it’s Gwen Stacy they’re bringing back. We’ll likely find out in a couple months.
Vol. 5 was where this series finally started living up to its potential, leaving me actually looking forward to the next volume for the first time ever. The good news is that vol. 6 keeps the excitement high as it starts off with an accounting of where everyone in Wausau is -- both physically and mentally -- after the reviver-instigated explosion at the town hall. Things ramp up quickly as the new military officer, General Louise Cale, sent to contain the chaos instigates a manhunt for Blaine after his murder of May in the previous volume. This is only one of several plot threads that writer Tim Seeley sets in motion that play out in high drama in the backwoods as most of the title’s cast come looking for the demonologist/exorcist/snowbike repairman who is now heading up a militia that believes he’s their chosen one. By the time the dust has settled, a few people will have been shot, a couple will be dead, and one of the title’s biggest secrets will have found its way out into the open.
Yes, this is the volume where EVERYTHING CHANGES! Starting with the power structure in the city, to the dynamic between the Cypress sisters, which morphs into an obliteration of their status quo within the story. The relationship between Dana and Emily Cypress has always been key to this series, and even if the means by which it’s fleshed out here are somewhat heavy-handed, the actions of the sisters still spring from a believable place. Expect lots of heartbreak, anger, and even a bit of redemption as well. By the end of the volume, the Cypress sisters are in a much different place than where they began, but also a more interesting one with a clear purpose for the next arc. Excellent work from Seeley in this regard, slightly less so from Norton as he begins this volume with a more exaggerated style that eventually settles down into his (better) usual one by the end of the volume. I have to imagine this series is past its halfway point by now, so it’s good to see it getting really good as it goes along.
I had no idea this existed before I saw it for sale at a Book-Off in La Jolla a few weeks back. A graphic novel about the fall of the Templar order published by First Second and by “Prince of Persia” creator Jordan Mechner -- how did this fly completely under my radar? Regardless of missing this when it came out in 2013, I’m glad I picked it up. While the cover promises action and “An unforgettable tale of love, gold, and glory” according to the creators of the “Game of Thrones” TV show, that wasn’t what sold me on it. Rather, it was the irreverence in describing its protagonist Martin on the dust jacket. Though most of the Knights Templar are known to be noble knights of God whose fighting skills are matched only by their purity, Martin and his friends don’t quite follow the order’s doctrine to the letter. This turns out to be a good thing after Martin’s friends get him drunk and sneak him out of the grounds for a midnight trip to Paris’ red-light district and they wind up missing the mass arrest of the entire order as orchestrated by the King of France and his chancellor. It isn’t long until he meets up with another former Templar and a friar who have found out an incredible secret: The location of the treasure of the Templars. It’s theirs for the taking if they can solve the mysteries of its vault and manage the not inconsiderable task of smuggling out of a city that wants them all dead.
That’s right, this is a heist story set in feudal times and it’s just as fun as you’d expect from a premise like that. Mechner creates a likeably flawed protagonist in Martin and surrounds him with a cast that would appear best suited for comic relief, but eventually reveals itself to have more dimension than that. The low-tech mechanics of the heist are carried off quite well, and the social engineering Martin and his friends have to employ is also very entertaining to see unfold. Mechner also integrates the plight of the Templars into the story in a fairly seamless fashion, adding some well-wrought historical drama and intrigue to the proceedings -- which look great thanks to the art of the husband-and-wife team of Leuyen Pham and Alex Puvilland. The art captures the look of the times, features impeccably clear storytelling, along with characters that you can’t help but like after seeing them in action. As good as this all is, the story does take a while to really get going, and I would’ve liked to have seen more done with Salim, the saracen who converted to join the Templars. That’s an interesting backstory, but we only get to see his (admittedly impressive) scientific knowledge on display here.
At a cover price of $40, the price of admission may seem a bit steep. Except it really isn’t. Yes, I got my copy for half of that and it was an incredible deal. Yet the story “Templar” tells, and the way it tells it, is easily worth the price on the cover.
Is this it?
Kodansha Comics has already gone on record as saying that this will be the last volume of “Vinland Saga” published in the U.S. unless sales pick up. So if you like this series and haven’t already picked up all seven volumes, you’d better go do it now! If you haven’t, then vol. 7 serves as one more reason for you to start. It’s a smart, bloody, invigorating, and even occasionally humorous look at viking life in its heyday with a protagonist determined to go against its grain even if it kills him. If you’re concerned that “Vinland Saga’s” uncertain future in the States means that you’ll be left hanging after this volume ends, don’t be. The current arc is wrapped up in moving fashion as Thorfinn and Canute meet again for the last time.
I doubt we’ll ever see the original artist of “The Walking Dead,” Tony Moore, ever come back to that series for anything besides a variant cover. Meanwhile, over at “Invincible,” original artist Corey Walker just can’t seem to stop making return trips to that title after all these years. He usually shows up to pinch-hit for regular artist Ryan Ottley whenever he takes on a side project or the story demands a different visual style. In this case, Walker’s latest return to “Invincible” is precipitated by the former as Ottley takes some time off to deliver his creator-owned “Grizzly Shark” series. Originally a one-shot that depicted the adventures of the world’s most feared land animal, it’s now back in color with an unspecified amount of new issues to follow. Which is good because it’s always easier for me to pick up trade paperbacks as opposed to single issues. As for “Invincible,” Walker is illustrating the story that picks up after the fallout of the “Reboot?” arc where Mark went back in time to the beginning of the series and did something to his timeline that I’ve read vague enough things about to make me interested in seeing just what the heck it is.
“Rebirth.” That’s the buzzword from DC publisher Dan Didio on Twitter, leading most everyone to think that the company is planning ANOTHER relaunch later this year. Rich Johnston seems to think that this will involve another round of new #1 issues and a tighter focus between the company’s TV and film projects. This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the “New 52” and I can’t say that the idea of the company doing it all over again is all that appealing. “An exciting new jumping-off point” is how I saw it described on Twitter and I fear that’s only the tip of the cynicism iceberg that DC is going to have to surmount here. Still, one of the rumors from yesterday involved Scott Snyder moving from “Batman” to “Detective Comics” and I can get behind that. As good as the man’s work on “Batman” has been, he got his start on “Detective” and it should be interesting to see what kind of stories he’ll come up with while working outside of the spotlight of the company’s flagship title.
Not only is this a volume all about the organization’s ectoplasmic medium Johann, it’s also the concluding chapter to the story of Pvt. Patrick Redding that was started in “Sledgehammer ‘44.” Things start off on a down note as Johann finds himself to be at odds with the members of his current team after a mission for unspecified reasons. We eventually find out that these reasons involve the death of a much-liked (by this writer at any rate) member of the B.P.R.D. team and the subsequent step Johann took with his corpse to ensure their mission was completed. It leaves him feeling that he has lost touch with his humanity and a subsequent re-visit to the mission site to fix that has the side effect of making him realize how fragile he is against the monsters his organization fights against on a daily basis. This leaves Johann to investigate the mystery of the Sledgehammer armor as the fight comes to the B.P.R.D.’s front door.
As you can see, this is meant to be a big turning point for Johann. Shame it doesn’t come off that way. Mignola and Arcudi bring up various plot points regarding the character to try and drive home the fact that he’s at a crossroads, but most of it feels like a bunch of huffing and puffing in order to get the character where he needs to be at the end of volume. That’s not to say that their efforts don’t result in some good material. The reasons Johann’s team has for not wanting to work with him anymore are disturbingly well-founded and the graveside scene between the medium and the dead member of the team manages the neat trick of being both affecting and creepy. Yet even if there are interesting things in the story, it still feels like one where the creators had a very good idea of where they wanted to end up and not as much of one with how to get there. Also, “Sledgehammer ‘44” is required reading if you want to get the most out of the latter half of this volume since it’s almost a direct continuation of the story that was told there. “Metamorphosis” is a misfire, but one not without its merits -- including some great art from Peter Snejbjerg and Julian Totino Tedesco.
Hiroaki Samura has done a couple series since wrapping up his epic masterpiece “Blade of the Immortal.” This one is just the first to reach our shores. Expecting something on the same level of brilliance as his signature series would just be an exercise in setting myself up for disappointment. Yet this is likely to be a series best appreciated by his core fanbase. After all, they’re the ones most likely to be patient enough to allow this wild and irreverent series the time it needs to come together.