One of these days I’ll eventually migrate to reading comics digitally instead of in print. Not yet, though. Not when titles like this, originally published online in a “pay what you want” metric can still find their way into being a physical product. (Particularly when the way involves a handshake deal between Brian K. Vaughan and Robert Kirkman that will allow the former to write a “The Walking Dead” story for his online operation -- The Panel Syndicate.) What I’m trying to say is that after hearing about this series for a while and making mental notes to get around to reading it online, this landscape hardcover was released and I get to maintain my old habits. The wait was worth it, though, as “The Private Eye” is a thoroughly engaging read with lots of things to say about our current state of affairs with its near-future narrative.
Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s series was the standout amongst Marvel’s initial round of “Star Wars” collections and this second volume shows that its quality wasn’t a fluke. Vader continues the rebuilding of his power base with an ambitious heist of a deceased crimelord’s fortune from the Empire. Though the act, masterminded by his associate Doctor Aphra and several capable bounty hunters, appears to go off without a hitch, trouble soon rears its head in the form of the new adjutant forced on him. While the previous adjutant was *ahem* found to be guilty of treason and general incompetence, Inspector Thanoth quickly reveals himself to be an intelligent and supremely capable individual. As he and Vader work together to find out what happened to the stolen fortune, Aphra works to find out if there actually was an heir to the Naboo throne and where the pilot who destroyed the Death Star can be found.
This is the kind of heist story where the crime has to go off without a hitch unless the criminal finds himself in a slowly tightening noose with no way to extricate themselves. The criminal here is Darth Vader and he doesn’t do the whole “tightening noose” bit. Gillen maintains the excellent setup from the previous volume of giving us a Sith Lord whose position may be in danger, but still maintains a fearsome presence. Even as Thanoth draws ever closer to the truth, Vader never once appears to crack under the pressure. I’ll admit that having a mask like that is great for masking any visual signs of uncertainty or tension, but Gillen’s dialogue also makes it clear that while Vader is taking Thanoth’s investigation seriously he doesn’t feel threatened by it. The inspector himself is also a great addition to the cast with his sharp investigative mind and ability to roll with disruptions to his plans as we see in the final issue here.
Larroca’s art is also an asset to the story here, mostly. It’s slick, professional work from the artist that captures the “Star Wars” look well enough to forgive the few times that characters show up with awkward facial expressions or certain scenes -- like Vader’s use of a lightsaber to take down a Y-wing -- don’t have the impact they should. The overall product is still thoroughly entertaining and continues to set a high bar for Marvel’s other “Star Wars” titles to reach.
There’s a new volume of a certain manga being advance-solicited here! That’s right, after a year and a half of waiting, Dark Horse is finally releasing vol. 16 of “Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project.” Can you feel the excitement here! ARE YOU NOT YET ENTERTAINED!?!?!?
…Ugh. Well, at least this means the manga news from the publisher can only get better from here on out. Right?
I actually had to go back and re-read Garth Ennis’ previous “Phantom Eagle” miniseries, surtitled “War Is Hell,” to refresh my knowledge of the main character. That’s because Karl Kaufmann comes off in this story as an arrogant, self-entitled little shit that deserves every indignity heaped upon him here. As opposed to the previous miniseries where he came off as a little clueless and self-absorbed before maturing somewhat in the end. On re-examination it turns out that Karl’s current characterization isn’t too far off from his previous one. The main difference is in the tone as “War Is Hell” was Ennis in full-on war story mode, while “Where Monsters Dwell” is him laughing it up at the expense of the adventure stories of comics’ Golden Age. You know, the kind where a heroic white dude finds himself in a savage land out of time, hostile natives on one side, vicious dinosaurs on the other, and a helpless dame at his side depending on his machismo to see them through.
That… is not what we get here. Karl is behind the narrative curve at every step of this story and manages to survive only through the good graces and quick thinking of Clementine Franklin-Cox. Not only is she a woman with more guts than Karl, but she knows her way around a machine gun and has certain “tendencies” which leave her singularly well equipped to deal with the tribe of blonde warrior amazons that the two encounter along the way. It’s a skewering of tropes that are desperately in need of it and a good deal of fun. While the cover may sport a “Parental Advisory,” Ennis’ more outlandish tendencies take a back seat and allow for better focus on humor and characterization. He’s joined by frequent collaborator Russ Braun, and it’s remarkable to see how well the two are working together at this point. I’ll always think of Steve Dillon as Ennis’ greatest artistic partner, but Braun is starting to give him a run for his money with characters who emote convincingly on the page and storytelling that is always easy to follow. I imagine that there are those who aren’t going to want to read a story that skewers manliness this thoroughly, but that’s their problem. “Where Monsters Dwell” is good fun for everyone else.
The series comes to a satisfying end, even though I was expecting a bit more after the build-up from the previous volume. By all rights the highlight of vol. 12 should’ve been the cat-and-mouse duel between Amuro and Char given the way their paths have crossed over the course of the series and the sheer amount of pages that mangaka Yoshikazu Yasuhiko devotes to it here. While the visuals are as top-notch as you’d expect from the man, their conflict does wind up dragging on for far too long. Also, it winds up dragging in a good deal of the “newtype” business that has consistently felt out of place here. (Yes, I know it’s a key part of the “Gundam” mythos. I still think the manga would’ve been better off leaving it out -- especially since it’s used here simply to justify why a seasoned warrior like Char isn’t able to kill Amuro outright.) At least the mangaka still manages to turn things around at the end by giving us a more tragic version of Char. While a good portion of this series has been given over to painting a picture of the character as someone who can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome he is, here we see all illusions of that stripped away. What we’re left with is someone so committed to his dream of vengeance that he can’t give it up lest he be left with nothing at all.
It’s moments like that which make the final volume worthwhile, and there are several more where that came from. Both in the main story and the three novella-length epilogues which follow it. The epilogues are all worthwhile reading as while the first shows us the earliest days of Zeon as a movement and House Zabi, the two that follow provide essential closure to show us the state of politics in the Sol System in the wake of the war. They also show the series at its goofiest as Kai tracks down Sayla for an interview and encounters cross-dressing, a secret detachment of Zeon forces, and has a nightmare about breastfeeding. The story featuring Amuro has him being hunted by a hapless Zeon assassination squad while meeting up with Hayato, Fraw, and the kids in Japan, and is entertainingly silly for most of its run. I say most, because there’s a moment between Amuro and Hayato where the latter begs the former for something in a way that will really hit you in the gut.
Plenty of standout moments here, surrounded by some material that isn’t quite as strong or memorable. It’s a good summation of the series as a whole. That’s what I’m thinking right now, though that may change after I give this a re-read later this year. No, I’m not done with this yet. Expect a podcast later on where the shoe that I wore during the “Evangelion” one is put on another man’s foot. After all, if you’re like me then you have to have wondered how this series looks to someone who has seen the original “Gundam” anime.
When it was announced that this “Secret Wars: Warzones!” miniseries would focus on a married -- with child -- Spider-Man, I thought I knew what the story would be about. We’d get to see how Peter Parker would handle these things while interacting with other heroes and villains in some semblance of current Marvel continuity. That’s not what we got with this Dan Slott-written, Adam Kubert (with Scott Hanna) illustrated miniseries. I have to give credit to Slott for bucking expectations like that, but it took a while for me to get over the fact that I didn’t really care for this at first.
Here’s another one to file under the “Why did it take so long for this to get a collected edition?” category. For years, Garth Ennis’ run on “The Demon” stood as the only long-form comics work from the creator (in America, at least) that had yet to be collected. It’s kind of surprising considering that his run on that title with artist John McCrea served as a precursor to their longer and more successful run on “Hitman.” In fact, Tommy Monaghan’s first appearance is re-printed here and he has a fairly prominent role in the title arc. Yet this is Etrigan’s show as he’s recruited by Remiel and Duma -- the angels who were sent to run Hell in “Sandman” -- to round up demons who have escaped and send them back where they belong. This is a solid setup for the series which has the title character taking on all sorts of demon-associated evildoers including bikers, a ganglord and his entourage, and Nazis.
As it goes, none of this is bad at all yet it’s not so great that I wish I had been able to read it sooner. Wait. Scratch that last bit -- if it had been reprinted when “Hitman” was being published I’d have probably been more entertained. Mainly due to the fact that Ennis’ style felt fresher back then and the over-the-top violence and comedy on display here would’ve been novel. Instead, there’s the distinct feeling of “been there, done that” to most of the action here. Though, if anyone has wondered why a writer so fond of war stories like Ennis hasn’t done a story featuring the Haunted Tank before, you’ll be glad to know that’s because he did it here. It’s the one featuring the demonic Nazis. Still, Etrigan is a fun, anarchic presence in all the stories while McCrea’s demented art really fits the bill here. This is a collection best enjoyed by Ennis completists (like me), though it’s likely they’ll think that the writer’s introduction -- where he explains his background with the character, the series, and how he made the title’s editor feel dirty -- is really the most entertaining part of the whole collection.
How did a “Batman” comic co-written by Mike Mignola manage to go without a collected edition for nearly fifteen years? We may never know the exact answer, but it wasn’t because “The Doom That Came to Gotham” wasn’t a good “Elseworlds” series. This three-part miniseries, co-written by Richard Pace with art from Troy Nixey, takes place in 1928 -- two decades after Bruce Wayne’s parents were cut down in the street by a madman and he was cursed with a vision of the doom that would eventually envelop the city. Now, after finding the lost Cobblepot expedition and the otherworldly horror that was the source of its ruin, Bruce is headed back to Gotham to confront his fate.
While Pace is credited as a co-writer, the story has all of Mignola’s trademarks. Men transformed into monsters due to otherworldly powers, unnatural Lovecraftian beings from outside the bounds of our universe trying to get in, protagonists strong-willed enough to punch evil in the face, and so on. All of this actually manages to comport really well with the Bat-mythos, and in some genuinely surprising and satisfying ways. It could’ve been a mess, with Mignola and Pace forcing their end-of-the-world story onto a setup and characters that don’t fit it. Yet it’s a testament to their skill and the flexibility of said mythos that the inclusion of characters like Ra’s Al Ghul, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and even Jason Blood’s more entertaining half mesh with the narrative as well as they do.
Mind you, I’m saying this as someone who has a lot of familiarity with Batman and his rogues gallery. Even if you’re coming to this as a fan of Mignola’s work with “Hellboy” and “B.P.R.D.” a lot of the various plot points and twists will likely not come off in a satisfying manner if you don’t have any knowledge of these characters as they normally are in the DC Universe. This is in spite of the gloriously weird and creepy art from Nixey -- who I’m honestly surprised hasn’t worked more in the Mignolaverse over the years. Due to the necessary familiarity with Batman and his mythos, “The Doom That Came to Gotham” is best appreciated by Bat-fans who are looking for a different take on these things. In that regard, the creators deliver mightily.
I went and re-read all thirty-one volumes of this series to find out if it still holds up after its conclusion.
The previous volume left off on a dramatic cliffhanger as Elias, enraged by the wounding of Chise, began to lose his human form and revert to his natural one. What follows is a rousing sequence of action and drama as the two, and those in their immediate vicinity face off against Joseph, a.k.a. Cartaphilus, a.k.a. “The Wandering Jew.” This long-lived individual, currently assuming the form of a kid, is a real piece of work. Blithely acknowledging the pain his experiments cause, all for his stated purpose of living a painless life, he is immediately hateable even as his absent-mindedness about why he was performing certain experiments and rage at being called by his true name hint that there’s more to him than the carefree surface he presents. After that conflict is resolved, the drama mostly recedes into the background as Chise and Elias return home, with the former getting used to life with her new familiar and the latter dealing with the consequences of assuming his real form. They’re soon split up again as Chise heads up north at Master Lindel’s invitation to craft her own wand and learn a bit more about Fae that calls itself Elias.
Vol. 3 continues this series exploration of magical rules and history, while also offering deeper insight into its two protagonists. We see a more emotional and vulnerable side to Elias than we have in previous volumes, which should make clear that he cares more for his charge as a person than as a thing he bought at an auction. Better still is the in-text acknowledgement that Chise can’t simply continue depending on her benefactor. At some point, she’s going to have to become her own person and stand on her own two feet. This acknowledgement is also administered in a fun, if not overly transparent, manner courtesy of Lindel and the welcome return of Angelica. While mangaka Kore Yamazaki has made her intentions clear that she wants Chise and Elias to wind up as a couple, that idea has been problematic from the start due to the owner/property relationship established between them at the start -- to say nothing of their physical/spiritual differences. Yet even as the mangaka works to show that genuine feelings are starting to form between the two, she’s also tackling the more difficult task of forging Chise into her own person. This is probably the most compelling plot thread in the series, causing it to resonate with everything else on display in this volume as one of the year’s best.