Franken Fran vols. 1-2 Omnibus

February 29, 2016

Fran Madaraki just wants people to be happy.  As the greatest creation of the legendary mad scientist Dr. Madaraki, she has the surgical skills to bend science and medicine to her will in order to accomplish just that.  Whether it’s the head of a zaibatsu who wants his son brought back to life, a high school boy who wants to save the life of the girl he just confessed to, a young man regretting the double suicide pact he planned with his girlfriend, Fran is here to bring them all happiness!  She goes about doing this by.  Any.  Means. Necessary.  So if this means grafting a face onto a head that has been reconstructed to hold two brains, or putting a girl into a caterpillar-like larvae to regenerate, then it’s okay as long as everyone gets what they want in the end.  From a certain point of view, that is.

The stories in this omnibus edition of the first two volumes of this series read like a crazed hybrid of Tezuka’s “Black Jack” and “Tales From the Crypt.”  Fran’s desire to bring happiness to the human race is genuine, but the majority of her patients are less-than-upstanding members of it.  So the stories being told here take lots of weird, disturbing, and sick twists along the way.  While Fran’s laid-back attitude does tend to give the stories a whimsical feel at times (even when the surgery and the blood get going), you can usually expect the narrative to take a sharp right turn into horror.  This works really well in the second story, which is easily the best one in this volume.  Yet you’ll be able to anticipate exactly when, and sometimes how, things will go wrong as the stories go on.

Mangaka Katsuhisa Kigitsu does have an impressively demented mind when it comes to thinking up these stories and situations.  As a result, my interest was held throughout this first omnibus even after I started getting wise to his approach.  He does, however, take a very hands-off approach to continuity, so it looks like the series is going to live or die by the quality of his stories rather than any kind of uber-narrative.  The mangaka’s art is also well-suited for the twisted horror stories he’s telling, but don’t be fooled by the cover.  It may make the series look like a surgery fetishist’s wet dream, except that the contents it hides cater to an entirely different (and far more bloody) set of fetishes.

Image Previews Picks: May 2016

February 28, 2016

While the solicitations I riff on each month can be found in Previews Magazine, it was recently announced that Image will be offering its own magazine to complement it.  Titled “Image+,” after a similar promotional magazine offered by the publisher back in the 90’s, it will not only spotlight new releases, but offer new creator-focused content in the form of interviews, features, editorials, and preview pages of upcoming titles.  However, the real draw for the magazine’s first year will be a new “The Walking Dead” comic from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard.  While new “The Walking Dead” content from its creators is always welcome, these four-page comics will tell the origin of Negan.  That automatically makes me interested, even if the whole concept of “Image+” doesn’t exactly scream “must-read” to me at the moment.  Maybe all this additional content will prove interesting and relevant as opposed to glorified self-promotion.  Right now, I’m just hoping that “The Walking Dead” comics will be collected in a one-shot sometime next year.

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Marvel Previews Picks: May 2016

February 27, 2016

Marvel has been cancelling a bunch of their second printings over the past few weeks.  Up until now, the easiest thing to infer from this was that the shine has come off of their “All-New, All-Different Marvel NOW!” initiative.  Now it’s being reported that several series will be getting new printings in a different manner than what we’ve seen before.  “Timely Comics” is what Marvel was before it was “Marvel” and it’s the name of the publisher’s new initiative:  Reprinting the first three issues of “All-New, All-Different” series in single editions for $3.  It’s a loss-leader tactic, trying to get people to start reading the ongoing titles from the fourth issue or get a sneak peek at a trade paperback for a negligible price.  Maybe it’ll be a surprising success for the company.  Then again, it could also create a new class of reader who knows that these cheap editions are coming and skips out on buying them in favor of these “Timely Editions.”

As a trade-waiter myself, this just sounds dumb.  The whole reason I like reading collected editions is to get a nice complete chunk of comics instead of having it drip-fed to me on a monthly basis.  Selling me three-fifths, or half of a trade even for $3 feels like a ripoff as I likely won’t be getting a complete story with those issues either.  Better to just put that $3 towards paying for the actual collection.

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Lazarus vol. 4: Poison

February 26, 2016

The first half of the title arc is an incredibly tense and nerve-wracking read as we pick up well into the inter-family war that kicked off at the end of vol. 3.  With family head Malcolm still in a coma and his condition declining steadily, things aren’t going well for Family Carlyle against the Hock forces.  It has gotten to the point where the Family Lazarus, Forever, is being sent into Duluth with a small squad of soldiers to take out some anti-air batteries and hopefully turn the tide of the war.  Even if you really can’t call Family Carlyle “the good guys,” they’re still considerably less evil than the pill-popping cult of personality that Hock is running these days.  So to see them so far on the back foot at the start of the story; well, it’s very unnerving.

Yet they have Forever on their side, and she’s pretty badass, so the fight back should be great fun to watch, right?  Well, writer Greg Rucka is well aware of that particular sentiment and does a great job of pulling the rug out from under you halfway through the story.  Yeah, things start off badly enough for Carlyle that you figure things are going to have to get better for them by the end.  What’s clear from the start is that they’re going to have to pay for that in both Forever’s blood and Johanna Carlyle’s treachery.  Rucka and artist Michael Lark are also primed to extract maximum drama from their struggle.

That said, maybe “treachery” is too strong a word here as the most devious of the Carlyle siblings proves herself to be the most capable among them (that are still conscious).  It’s actually kind of fun seeing the woman strong-arm her way to the top over the course of this volume.  Even better is seeing several familiar faces from vol. 2 show up again here, with the two kids who were “lifted” actually winding up in better positions (for having an impact on the main story).  Yes, I was very entertained by this fourth volume with my only real gripe being that a last-minute surprise regarding Forever really begged to have another issue around to explain it.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the scene where we find out exactly why she has that name, even if it manages to close things out on a perfectly creepy note.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Silver Surfer vol. 3: Last Days

February 24, 2016

Last time, I expressed my disappointment that Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s run on this title would be coming to an end with this “Last Days” tie-in to “Secret Wars.”  It turns out that I was wrong and their “Silver Surfer” is getting a new first issue out of this current relaunch.  This is great news because the series gets even better with this volume.  Don’t believe me?  Witness the first issue’s mind-and-story-bending conceit as Slott and Allred show the Surfer, his girl friend Dawn, and the alien flotilla they’re in charge of stuck in a time loop with the story playing out in parallel loops on the top and bottom of each page.  It’s an ambitious approach to telling this tale that could’ve come off as horribly confusing.  Yet after you wrap your mind around what they’re doing, you won’t be able to do anything but marvel (*rimshot*) at the way they’ve managed to tell a story from all sides in a wholly original way.

That first issue is a tough act to follow, and the stories that come after that do lean on some sci-fi tropes a bit.  Starting with the paradise planet that the Surfer finds for the aliens that has everyone living in blissful happiness for days on end.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  The cool thing about the resolution here is that this happiness is and isn’t.  I didn’t see the conclusion coming, which was nice, though the last page of this issue was a bit more in line with expectations.  Fortunately, after twelve issues it’s a moment that feels earned.

Then the Surfer and Dawn start making their way back to the latter’s home (while taking the long, scenic route) and they wind up getting caught up in the end of the universe.  Fortunately for them, there’s a powerful being by the name of Glorian who has the power to allow them to rebuild things the way they see.  Is it a trap?  Yes.  Do our heroes learn valuable lessons by turning their backs on the power offered to them?  You betcha!  Still, it’s hard not to get swept up in the fast-paced fun of this story as Slott takes a swing at creating a tie-in that’s even bigger in scope than the main event.  He doesn’t quite pull it off, but you can’t fault his or Allred’s ambition here.  This is easily one of the best books being published by Marvel right now and I’m glad it’s coming back for another run.  Even if it’s just another fifteen issues.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation vol. 2

February 22, 2016

Given what I said about the first volume, the cover to this one had a genuine, “All my worst fears CONFIRMED!” vibe to it.  It was to my surprise that vol. 2 is actually something of a step in the right direction for this series.  Things kick off with a no-holds-barred lesson in swordplay from Rudy’s father, after which the kid is sent to live with his wealthy relatives for the next five years.  Kind of a long-term character-building project.  While Rudy will be learning more of swordplay from the “CAT LADY WITH THE HUGE BOOBS!!!” or “Ghislaine” as she’s normally called, the boy is also stuck with the job of teaching the youngest daughter of the Greyrat household magic.  Upon Eris’ introduction, the narrative turns into “The Taming of the Tsundere” as Rudy has to employ all of his survival and people skills into turning this violent and unruly brat into someone who can interact with others in a normal manner.

Writer Rifujin Na Magonote hasn’t really tuned down his protagonist’s more unlikeable qualities here.  He has at least found a pretty good way of distracting me from them with Eris.  Unbelievably mean and angry even by the standards of her character type, I not only have no objections to the hurt she dishes out onto our protagonist (after all, he’s still kind of a smartass) but Eris’ extreme personality forces him to think creatively about how he deals with her.  Yeah, it’s not the most progressive of plots, but the tone is just over-the-top enough to make it work.

For the converted and open-minded, that is.  This series does still feel like it’s aimed squarely at fanboys who like seeing fantasy tropes messed with little to make it appeal to a broader audience.  The writer’s attempts to add some dimension to Ghislaine beyond the above-mentioned description have the opposite effect by showing that she’s thoroughly self-insufficient in the text story.  Also, anyone who was wondering just what Rudy was like when he was born into this world with his personality intact will get some answers in the bonus manga focusing on the house maid, Lilia.  The short version:  He was even creepier as a baby than he is now.  So vol. 2 is kind of a “one step forward, one step back” affair.  I kinda wish it didn’t feel the need to pander so hard to the fanboy crowd, yet “Mushoku Tensei” isn’t quite a lost cause in my book.  Yet.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Dark Horse Previews Picks: May 2016

February 21, 2016

Coming out of the ComicsPro retailer event this week was news that June 4th is going to be “Dark Horse Day” in celebration of the company’s 30th anniversary.  Retailers are being offered discounts on key titles in the company’s backlist as well as a sampler to be handed out to their customers for free.  This sampler will contain previously published stories from “Aliens vs. Predator,” “Sin City,” and “The Umbrella Academy,” as well as a new “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” story from current series writer Christos Gage.  I’d argue that the sampler should be more forward-looking than it is, with samples/promotions of upcoming titles, but I think the company has earned the right to celebrate after three decades in this business.  If only for their contributions towards creators rights and ownership, as well as singlehandedly raising the standard for licensed titles in comics.

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DC Previews Picks: May 2016

February 20, 2016

Well, we know what “Rebirth” is now.  A series of one-shots followed by rolling relaunches of the company’s entire line -- except for “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics” which will return to their original numbering -- starting with a one-shot before the ongoing monthly, or twice-monthly, series kicks off.  Effectively marking the end of the “New 52” era after almost five years, and coming a little over a year after the “Convergence” event and “DC You” re-branding, I can’t say I’m all that excited about this.  There will undoubtedly be some good books published through the initiative.  (Most of them likely starring “Batman,” as usual.)  Yet this latest relaunch is basically an admission that the “New 52” didn’t work and DC is flailing around for a new direction.  I don’t want to see the company go under as the Direct Market needs both Marvel AND DC to stay strong while Image and everyone else slowly take it over.  From this perspective, it’s starting to look increasingly like this isn’t going to happen.

Oh, and all of the surviving “New 52” books reach their 52nd issues this month (except for “Justice League”).  That’s something, I guess.

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Death of Wolverine

February 19, 2016

It’s very hard not to feel cynical about the concept behind this miniseries.  Even if the sales on his solo title(s) have leveled off over the past few years, Wolverine still remains an A-list character in comics and film.  Not only is the third (and now possibly R-rated) “Wolverine” film in development, it has taken not one, but two characters -- his female clone and grizzled old alternate-universe counterpart -- to replace him in comics.  Only temporarily, though.  Because the Ol’ Canucklehead will be back after enough time has passed for everyone to really miss him and eat away at the multiple counts of filicide he’s committed over the years.

Before that, there’s the actual matter of killing him.  Even with the temporary nature of superhero death in this day and age, I can’t imagine that there were a lot of writers who’d be interested in writing a story that was destined to be undone after several years.  In fact, the whole nature of this setup comes off as most like a puzzle box that needs to be solved rather than an opportunity to show what they’re really capable of.  Unless you’re Charles Soule.  He’s made a habit over the past few years of crafting satisfying, straightforward superhero stories that entertain even if they don’t really inspire.  I’d like to say that “Death of Wolverine” works as well as it does thanks to his approach, but that would be selling the stunning work of artist Steve McNiven short.

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Comic Picks #204: Mind MGMT

February 17, 2016

Matt Kindt's deeply strange series comes to a (not surprisingly) straightforward end.

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