As enjoyable as it is flawed.
There’s a new volume of “Berserk” slated to come out in Japan this summer. If we’re lucky, Dark Horse might be able to put it out in English by the end of the year. Even if they do manage to pull that off, three years will have passed between the release of new volumes of that title on these shores. For a series that is already on its thirty-seventh volume and shows no indication of reaching its climax anytime soon, that kind of delay between volumes is disturbing. It gives you the feeling that its creator has lost his passion for doing this series. For a title as ambitious and epic in scope as “Berserk,” you would think that Miura should be chomping at the bit to impart more of his vision to us. Instead, the long delay between volumes, the manga’s return to serialization being described as an “irregular” one, and Miura’s rumored obsession with “Idolm@ster (no, really) really make you start to fear that we may never see the end of Guts’ quest.
It’s under these circumstances that “Giganto Maxia” has been released into the wild. Viewed in the most generous terms, you could think of this story as something that Miura wanted to tell so badly that he put his signature series on hiatus to do so. Or, its existence may just be one more sign that “Berserk’s” creator is tired of the series he has been writing and drawing for the past quarter-century. This is more baggage than any title should have when it comes to market. Which is a shame because it’s pretty good for what it is. However, you’ll probably be able to guess my ultimate feelings towards it before you get to the final paragraph of the review.
WonderCon will have wrapped up as I post this, but not as I’m writing. Who knows, by the time I come back to this on Sunday maybe I’ll have some interesting Marvel news to write about here. As it stands, on this Friday evening, all we have are a couple panels of creators extolling the virtues of their current and upcoming series. Meh. At least there’s news from IDW that they’ll be publishing the first print collection of the new “Bloom County” online strips later this year. That’s something to look forward to. C’mon Marvel, you’ve got to give me more than this!
[Post-WonderCon Edit: Nope, they didn’t. Though the new “Jessica Jones” comic later this year should be something to look forward to.]
This is the month where just about EVERYTHING comes back for another arc. You’ve got titles that I read and was waiting for to return: “Casanova: Acedia,” “Descender,” and “Lazarus.” Titles that I read, but wasn’t sure if they’d be coming back for another volume: “Rumble,” and “Thief of Thieves.” Titles that I haven’t read yet, but am looking forward to: “Paper Girls,” and “I Hate Fairyland.” A title that I haven’t read yet but may get around to at some point: “Birthright.” [Post-WonderCon Edit: Got the first volume. Now I just have to find the time to read it.] And another Mark Millar title that I’m just not going to bother with: “Jupiter’s Legacy.” With these titles all starting new arcs in June, it’s not likely that we’ll see new volumes for them by the end of the year. In fact, it’s far more likely that I’ll finally get around to reading their arcs one year from now as I type this. That’s… interesting, I guess?
Meet Bill, Josh, Pete, and Jerry. They’re the members of The Eltingville Comic Book, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing club, experts in their respective fields of geekdom, and some of the most awful and repugnant characters I have read about in fiction in some time. Seriously, they’re personifications of some of fandom’s worst traits blown up to ridiculous proportions. The pettiness. The unfriendly bickering. The unchecked rage at the most minor of offenses. All of these and more are on display in this collection of short stories from over two decades by creator Evan Dorkin. Read on in horror as Bill and Josh engage in a hours-long triva-off for the privilege of buying a $250 mint-in-case 12-inch Boba Fett action figure. Cringe as Josh opens dozens of Wonder Bread bags in a supermarket in hopes of finding the one “Batman Forever” trading card he doesn’t have. Gaze in stunned disbelief at how arson at a Toys ‘R Us turns out to be the least crazy part of the group’s multi-day “Twilight Zone” marathon. The back cover proclaims this to be “fandom at its fan-dumbest” and that’s some of the truest copy I’ve ever read!
Repugnant as these characters are, “The Eltingville Club” is still a fun and funny read. Dorkin has some amazing cartooning skills and they’re put to great use in showing the extent of his characters’ crazed passions. We’re also not asked in any way to sympathize with these characters, merely look on at how their awful behavior makes life terrible for themselves and any poor fool who decides to get caught in their orbit. The situations the characters find themselves in, as well as the overall tone, are pitched to be so far over the top that they come off as more ridiculous than anything else. However, the internet has shown us that there are people in real life who do act just like the Eltingville crew, which is more than a little depressing to consider after having read this. Dorkin does offer redemption of a sorts for one of his cast in the final story, but the majority of this volume is a hard dose of concentrated nerd rage that isn’t meant to be taken seriously at all. I enjoyed it on that level. Anyone who would rather not look for humor in fandom’s deepest, darkest, most unwashed regions, or requires their stories to have likeable protagonists should consider themselves warned.
The good times continue in this volume as Barbara Gordon finds out that her dad is the new Batman. How does this happen? Well, like any responsible parent, Commissioner Jim Gordon tells his daughter straight up. It’s a nice scene that bucks expectations and leads to some interesting dramatic irony when Nu-Batman meets Batgirl as she’s facing off against Livewire. Once the initial meet-awkward is out of the way between the two superheroes, they eventually team up to take down the villain that has writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher cleverly inverting the usual “Batman” dynamic. Barbara takes the lead here and leads her dad to victory, along with some good-natured ribbing along the lines of, “This is the part where you’re supposed to vanish on me” at the end. The situation with the current Batman does put an interesting spin on this straightforward superhero team-up story, though you’re left wondering how a top cop like Jim Gordon can’t seem to recognize his daughter even when she’s wearing her bat-gear.
As for the other stories in this volume, they follow along the same agreeably fun lines. We have an annual where Barbara investigates some missing diplomats and doesn’t meet up with the presumed-dead Dick Grayson. She does, however, meet up with all of the other notable female characters in the bat-family to solve this mystery. Then Barbara gets involved in a series of tiger-related killings that involve some of the people closest to her, and follows it up by being a bridesmaid at the wedding of her friends Alysia and Jo -- where she actually does meet up with Dick. None of the stories here reinvent the wheel as far as superhero storytelling goes. As was the case last time, it’s the art of Babs Tarr that really distinguishes the book by giving it some real energy and fun. This time around she gets an assist from several other capable artists, particularly Bengal who walks the tightrope of maintaining artistic consistency while demonstrating his own style with aplomb. Overall, this is still a good read if you’re looking for something different in a bat-book.
This is another first volume from Yen Press that only costs $3 digitally on Amazon. Unlike “Handa-kun,” I was left ready for more after reading it and was disappointed to find that the company is letting the release of the digital editions lag behind print. That’s because “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun” is a charming and funny four-panel manga with a winning ensemble. It starts out when high school girl Sakura tries to confess her love to the tall and cool-looking Nozaki and bungles it by saying that she’s his fan. He responds by giving the girl his autograph and then inviting her back to his place… to do beta work on his art. It takes a while, but when the realization finally hits Sakura is simply shocked to learn that her crush is actually a mangaka who draws romantic shoujo manga under the pen name Sakaki Yumeno.
We also find out that while Nozaki may be the perfect catch on the surface, he’s more than a little clueless and lacking in tact as well. Yet he still winds up being a likeable guy with his easygoing nature and honest dedication to his work. Sakura also charms as she provides some clear-eyed perspective on the quirks of shoujo manga and is great at keeping other members of the cast in their place and from becoming too annoying. This includes background assistant Mikoshiba, who fancies himself a playboy, but whose nature is so adorable that Nozaki based the heroine of his latest manga on him. We also have Sakura’s “not mean, just completely oblivious” friend Suzuki, Kashima the female “prince” of the school who can’t stop being dashing even as she’s dragged away, and Hori the short member of the drama club who winds up being Kashima’s keeper more often than not.
They’re a fun bunch to observe and the humor springs up naturally from seeing how they interact with each other even in the simplest of situations. Mangaka Izumi Tsubaki also makes the four-panel format of her manga feel more vibrant than other series done in that style with her “widescreen” panels and detailed character and background work. The only thing that’s really working against the manga is that some of the humor can get a little “insider baseball.” If you’re not well-versed on some of the conventions of shoujo manga, then the jokes at its expense will likely fall flat. Most of the humor does just focus on the interactions of the cast, and that’s enough for me to recommend this to anyone who’s interested -- especially at that digital price!
The funny stuff is still funny and the sexy stuff is still sexy in this series. So what’s left to talk about? Well, there is the conflict that threatens to split apart Lisa and Ally’s relationship. Though the volume begins with the former moving into the latter’s apartment with all sorts of romantic, sexual, and comedic hijinks ensuing. While things are going great for a while, there’s the issue of friendship that keeps the two from taking things to the next level. By that I mean Lisa keeps putting Ally in the friend zone whenever they’re together in public with or without friends. Considering all that they’ve done for each other, it starts to eat at Ally after a while and the semi-platonic introduction of Annie, a tattoo artist who has a budding interest in S&M, to their circle doesn’t do a whole lot to alleviate her fears. Things come to a head at a Halloween party where all this tension finally comes to the surface between Lisa and Ally, resulting in a lot of unwelcome emotional and physical pain for their relationship.
This should have resulted in a cliffhanger that makes the wait for vol. 5 feel agonizing beyond belief. Except, as the present-day sequences throughout the series have made clear, everything works out all right for Lisa and Ally in the end. So it becomes a question of “how” things are going to get better, rather than “if.” Which is a little less dramatic. I do have faith that creator Stjepan Sejic’s storytelling skills are up to the task of making that a compelling read as he skillfully develops the underlying issues that lead to the calamity at the end of the volume. The whole “friend zone” issue encompasses a lot of little issues in Lisa and Ally’s relationship, and even when things seem to be getting better it’s still clear that some kind of reckoning is in the offing just from how the tone of certain scenes is pitched. It might seem somewhat unbelievable that two women in a sexual S&M relationship who have just moved in together have trouble declaring their feelings for each other. I get that, but it’s also clear that they’ve established this specialized, comfortable niche for themselves that they need to break out of if their relationship is going to continue. I’m fully expecting to see that happen in vol. 5, along with all the resultant joy that’ll come along with it. (And the lulz too, because it wouldn’t be “Sunstone” without that.)
At this point, Dark Horse has published more “Halo” comics for a longer time than when Marvel had the license to do so. The one thing they haven’t done, however, is publish a hardcover anthology of short stories based in this videogame universe. Well, that’s going to change this October when Dark Horse puts out the “Halo: Tales From Slipspace” anthology. Featuring work from the likes of John Jackson Miller, Jonathan Wayshak, Eric Nguyen, Kody Chamberlain, Dave Crosland and Simon Roy, as well as “Halo” comics writer Duffy Bordeau, and franchise staff Frank O’Connor and Tyler Jeffers, it should fit right in with the comics already being published by the company and its ongoing love of short stories.
Yet I remember when Marvel put out the “Halo Graphic Novel” and that was something of an event. Not just because it was a full-on OGN from a company that had been staunchly averse to such things, but because it had an impressive and eclectic roster of talent for a licensed product. The presence of artists like Simon Bisley, Moebius, and Tsutomu Nihei let you know that this wasn’t a project that was being handed off to whoever was in the Marvel offices that day and gave it a certain “must have” cachet in my mind. Fortunately the end result turned out to be pretty good, given the talent involved. That being said, this graphic novel also came out at a time when I had a vested interest in the “Halo” franchise and that time has long since passed. “Tales From Slipspace” may wind up being good, but the (admittedly decent) lineup of talent Dark Horse has secured for it isn’t enough to rekindle my interest beyond typing this out.
Remember when creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque put this series on hiatus for a year so that they’d be able to work on all of the issues together and have them come out on schedule? Yeah, that worked out real well. It took Snyder and Albuquerque over a year to put out the six issues collected in this volume and now they’re putting it on hiatus again while they work out their respective schedules and work on other projects. It’s a tough time to be an “American Vampire” fan with all this going on is what I’m saying here. At least the goings-on in this volume make for a decent read as always, except I’m firmly convinced that it’s never going to get back that special flair it had in the beginning to make me think that it was more than just a clever horrorshow. Fortunately, the narrative manages to avoid most of the silliness I was expecting from its “VAMPIRES IN SPAAAAAAAAAAACE!” storyline.