May 16, 2016
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the most important Dark Horse manga release of the year. Why is that? Well, let me ask you something: When was the last time you saw Dark Horse release a new manga that wasn’t a) from an established creator, b) a spinoff from a popular anime or videogame, or c) a license rescue? It’s been a while and other companies are even encroaching on “a)” with Hiroaki Samura and Kosuke Fujishima’s latest titles being released by Kodansha USA. So the bottom line is that if you want to see the company get back to releasing new, weird, and interesting original manga then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this.
The good news is that “I Am A Hero” would be worth reading even if I wasn’t trying to spark a movement behind it. It’s a slow-burn approach to a zombie story that takes its sweet time setting things up before unleashing a gushing river of terror and chaos. Yes, it feels a bit slow in parts, but that’s less of an issue with this two-in-one edition as we get to see more of mangaka Kengo Hanazawa’s ambition on display here. There’s no doubt about it, whoever at Dark Horse decided to package the series in this fashion deserves a goddamn medal because I don’t think it would’ve read as well in a single-volume format.
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May 15, 2016
Yeah, it’s been an Image-centric weekend over here. My backlog of their titles just keeps piling up for some reason. I still have the third volume of “The Fuse” to tackle at some point, and I swear I’ll get around to doing either a podcast or a review of the third volume of “The Fade Out.” In the meantime, here are my thoughts on three recent first volumes of series with varying degrees of promise.
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May 14, 2016
Brian K. Vaughan has said that he tries to work out all of his issues with the world through his comics. So if “Y: The Last Man” represents his thoughts on gender politics, “Ex Machina” is general politics, “Pride of Baghdad” is the Second Iraq War, and “Saga” is parenthood, then what is he dealing with in “Paper Girls?” Even after reading this volume, the answer isn’t clear yet. I do have an opinion about that (or else I wouldn’t be writing this review). With its ensemble cast and puzzle-box nature, “Paper Girls” is Vaughan’s attempt to put his own spin on two such TV shows he worked on -- “Lost” and “Under the Dome.”
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May 13, 2016
Savor this volume because it might be a while before we see the next one. I’d like to think that Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra have invested enough into “The Manhattan Projects” to let things end here. Though it does little to advance the overall story of the many scientists wrapped up in this saga, “The Sun Beyond the Stars” still manages to entertain and provide another welcome example of its creators fearsome imaginations. Depending on how you look at it, the fittingly downbeat conclusion it brings to the stories of two of its characters is a bonus.
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May 11, 2016
Tsutomu Nihei's latest series may be his most conventional, but it may be his most entertaining as well.
May 9, 2016
The relationship at the core of this series gets bit deeper with this volume as we find out about Elias’ history. It’s related to Chise by the mage Lindel who talks about the fearsome entity he encountered one evening that collapsed out of hunger in front of him. Elias’ exact origins are mostly shrouded in mystery here, save for some sinister hints… that are expertly defused with humor by Lindel. It’s clear that mangaka Kore Yamazaki wants to keep some things secret from us, but the information we get here paints a clearer picture of the ancient magus. For all of his fearsome power, he’s still a child when it comes to his emotional knowledge. That gives the scenes where he confesses that he doesn’t like the “cold” that occurs when Chise is away genuine resonance. In short, Elias’ efforts to learn what makes humans tick makes him a more human and interesting character.
Much the same can be said of Chise here as she continues to work through her own emotional baggage and acclimate herself to the fact that she has once again become part of a family. This is interesting to note because we also learn for the first time that she wasn’t just alone with her mother, but that she had a father and younger brother as well. While I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN this will never be mentioned again, Chise’s growth is accompanied by a sense of awe and wonder as she learns more about the world of magic. Aside from the tale Lindel spins for her, Chise starts crafting her own wand which leads to a reunion with an old friend, summons a firebird for entirely personal reasons, shaves the woolybugs and has a close encounter with their snow variants, and gets a were-experience in the volume’s final story. All of these instances tell us a little bit more about the world of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” and show that Yamazaki has an impressive imagination when it comes to worldbuilding. This series continues to be an utterly enchanting and immersive read and is again recommended to all fans of good fantasy. At this point, I’d even say people who don’t normally like the genre should give it a shot as well.
May 8, 2016
In all the years that Dark Horse published “Star Wars” comics, they only ever did one crossover. That was “Vector,” during the time that they were publishing four ongoing titles. It’s actually one of the better crossovers I’ve read if only for the fact that it prompted major advancements to the plots of “Knights of the Old Republic” and “Legacy.” I’m assuming that “Vader Down” will only be the first crossover of many from Marvel if the way they manage their superhero universe is any indication of that. At least the resounding sales success of “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” means that they’re coming at it from a position of strength rather than something that needed to be done in order to shore up sagging sales. (I’m looking in the direction of “Standoff” and the upcoming “Civil War II” here.) Then again, given the talent involved -- Gillen! Aaron! Larroca! Deodato! -- you’d think that the end result would be better than what we got.
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May 7, 2016
I can see what writer Kurtis Wiebe is trying to do here and it doesn’t work nearly as well as he seems to think it does. After the previous volume left off with necromancer Hannah finding out some distressing news about her father, she and the rest of the Rat Queens head off to Mage U in order to help him out. This leads Hannah to a reckoning with her past and her friends after the secret behind the incredible magical power she wields is revealed. Why is this a problem? Well, I’ll just say that the subtitle for this volume is kind of a hint in that regard.
This is some fairly serious stuff that has been injected into what has been an amusingly irreverent fantasy romp so far. While I wanted more substance after the hijinks of the second volume, the way in which the writer tries to do this are at odds with the comedy. I’m not saying that Wiebe has completely forsaken the funny bits here, as the opening scenes with the Queens being held hostage by the goblins and Petunia’s interactions with the dragon are comedic high points. The problem is that the pivot towards drama comes too soon for this title. “Demons” feels like the kind of story you tell right before the end of a series, when things start going bad for the good guys, relationships once thought unbreakable start to falter, and the bad guys finally get the upper hand. After only two volumes, “Rat Queens” hasn’t accumulated the kind of history or characterization that’s needed to really sell the drama here. The end result is that most of the storytelling here feels forced and generally unsatisfying.
Tess Fowler is the new artist for this volume and she does her best to sell what Wiebe is peddling here. I’ll definitely admit that she’s got a great handle on the fantasy and comedy aspects of this series, and I even like her “Even More Demonic” design for Hannah. The biggest problem here is that former artist Stjepan Sejic is still on hand to provide the covers. Which means that the start of every issue here provides a reminder of what we’re missing out on after health problems forced him off this title. Even if Sejic had done this entire volume, I’m not convinced his art would’ve turned it into a completely satisfying experience. If this story does represent the beginning of the end for “Rat Queens,” then it’s probably for the best.
May 6, 2016
When it was announced a few years back that Faith Erin Hicks would be writing and illustrating a series of martial arts fantasy graphic novels, my first reaction was something along the lines of, “But I don’t want to wait a few years for this!” Well, the waiting is over and it was worth it. This first volume of “The Nameless City” series introduces us to young Kaidu. He’s one of the Dao, the people that are currently ruling the title city, and has traveled here to meet his father for the first time in years. On a trip into the city, Kaidu crosses paths with Rat, an orphan girl who is quick on her feet and has a healthy distrust of all Dao. After a stroke of luck allows Kaidu to catch Rat after she steals his dagger, the two strike up an initially contentious but eventually warm friendship as he brings her food and she teaches him to be as fast as she is along with the ways of the city.
For a book that’s aimed at a young adult audience, I was surprised at how small-scale and grounded its narrative was. There’s no fate-of-the-world conflict here or magical techniques that need to be mastered by either of our protagonists. It’s a straightforward story of friendship, tolerance, and understanding with an assassination plot to provide intrigue and a thrilling climax. Even if this all seems like it’s been done before, Hicks shows that this kind of story can still be pretty involving when everything’s done right. She has an interesting setting in this city that has been conquered so often that there’s no proper name for it anymore and draws from feudal China for its aesthetic. Kaidu and Rat are also very likeable protagonists who have great (platonic, so far) chemistry together with their respective innocent and street-smart mindsets.
Aside from the general look of the city, Hicks also impresses with her command of action here. While there aren’t really any epic kung-fu fights to be seen here, the energy and momentum she invests in Kaidu and Rat’s scenes of parkour throughout the city makes them utterly captivating. Hicks builds a solid foundation for this series with the characters and worldbuilding she demonstrates here and I’m left with the feeling that things will get even better with the second volume. Great all-ages fun for everyone.
May 4, 2016
This brings us up to issue #150 of the ongoing series and it’s a much happier milestone than the previous major one. You know, where Negan beat Glenn to death (which is still what I’m expecting to see happen on the TV show, but that’s another story). After the stealth pre-emptive strike against Alexandrea by Alpha, the leader of the Whispers, that left a lot of people with their heads on pikes as a warning, Rick now has to preserve order in a very frightened and angry community. The panic manifests in ways both subtle -- a distraught Eugene noting that they have Alpha’s daughter to use as leverage -- and violent as Rick is beaten nearly to death one by some citizens who want to send a message. It’s a very credible look at mob violence and even as you hope for Rick to find a way to get things under control, the feelings and (to a certain extent) actions of these people ring true.
That Rick does find a way to unite everyone and set forth a plan to take out the Whispers should not surprise anyone. What should give readers some pause is how Negan figures into it. Kirkman has sworn that the former leader of the Saviors will never leave the cell he’s currently in. However, we’ve already seen that’s not going to stop him from messing with the minds of anyone who decides to pay him a visit. Or, in this case, offering Rick counsel on the crisis at hand with possibly a side order of manipulation. What Negan has to say about the threat of the Whispers is really on point and delivered with the same kind of entertainingly foul-mouthed magnetism that has always made his appearances memorable. I’d say “fun,” but you also have to consider the times he shows up to murder characters I like.
Even if it is mostly just setup for the next major phase of the series, this volume shows that you can still deliver worthwhile and compelling material in the process of doing so. There’s a lot in this volume that speaks to the current state of our own world, and as ugly as things are with “The Walking Dead” it’s still reassuring to see that Rick Grimes is around to lead the good guys. At least, until Kirkman finally decides to kill him -- because that’s what happens to reassuring things in this world.