Oh man. With one scene in this third volume, “Mushoku Tensei” effectively cements itself as something just for the fanboys. It was my hope that the story would focus more on the redemptive aspects of Rudy Greyrat’s journey from reincarnated NEET to first-class wizard in this fantasy realm with the fanservicey bits firmly in the background where they belong. That almost happens here, until one moment after a birthday celebration where things go right off the rails.
Rudy is his usual manipulative self during the celebration, to the point where he accidentally winds up endearing himself to the lady of the house. So moved is she by his plight that the lady pledges her daughter, the tsundere Eris, to be his wife when she is of age. Rudy doesn’t think much of this at first… until Eris shows up in his bedroom later that night.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that this celebration was for Rudy’s 10th birthday. Eris is just as old. Rudy, having the mind of a thirtysomething otaku, decides to push this as far as the girl is willing to go. The good news is that Eris eventually beats his ass down for this, but not before things become irredeemably skeezy. Seeing this kind of foreplay between pre-teens is bad. That one of them knows exactly how bad this is and does it anyway is downright skin-crawling.
This is only a comic book, so it’s not like there are any real people being affected by Rudy’s actions here. However, the idea that his actions here are okay on some level and even rewarded -- after the beating, Eris tells Rudy to hold off for another five years until they become adults -- really casts a shadow over any (admittedly modest) enjoyment I’d expect to get from this series. “Mushoku Tensei” has a core idea of redemption that I like and at this point it has basically been overwhelmed by the pandering it offers to the basest desires of fandom.
Everyone, I want to say that I’m very disappointed in you.
I know I’m a little behind the curve on this, but the outrage that you have shown in reaction to the surprise twist at the end of the first issue of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” suggests that none of you have been reading comics for very long. We all know that’s not true, and you should have started trying to figure out what the real story going on here is. The idea that Captain America has been a deep cover operative for Hydra after all these years is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Marvel tried the same thing several years back with Jonathan Hickman’s “Secret Warriors” series where it started off with the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated and puppeted by Hydra for the past few decades. I almost got whiplash from that twist, but it turned out not to be the case. Being the spy supreme that he was, Nick Fury was shown to have pulled a fast one on Von Strucker and his Hydra cabal and run them even before they infiltrated his organization.
That’s the kind of endgame that’s likely to happen with this “Captain Hydra” business and you should’ve known it! Dramatic changes to characters like this never stick and rarely work well unless they’re part of a larger story. See also: “Superior Spider-Man.” Nick Spencer, the man behind this twist, is a smart writer and I’m fairly certain he has a plan here, The fact that recent stories involving Steve Rogers, such as “Standoff,” have involved Cosmic Cubes suggests that Cap’s newfound history with Hydra was the result of reality being re-written. So either the good guys will find a way to write it back the right way, or we’ll get a SURPRISE DOUBLE-TWIST where Rogers was revealed to have been working for the good guys while working for Hydra. Neither prospect sounds particularly exciting at this point, but maybe Spencer has some better ideas up his sleeve.
Still, the amount of outrage this twist has provoked is mystifying from my end. All of you fans out there should know better than to take things like this in a Marvel comic at face value by now.
It looks like most of the “Rebirth” launches have gone down all right. I’ve been reading some good reviews for most of them and there don’t appear to be any obvious misfires in the bunch. More mixed appears to be the company’s Hanna-Barbara relaunch. “Scooby Apocalypse” and “Wacky Raceland” appear to not be quite what everyone wanted, while “Future Quest” is making good on the promise of its setup. In other news, “Watchmen” colorist John Higgins has called DC’s decision to integrate characters from the series “One of the biggest mistakes they could make.” I’m with you on that one, John.
Oh, and it was announced earlier this week that Rafael Albuquerque will be doing the art for the new “Hit-Girl” series from Mark Millar. Between the artist’s work on “Batgirl” and now this, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the “Third Cycle” of “American Vampire” anytime this year, or even in the next. Though, the second “American Vampire Anthology” has been re-solicited here, so fans of the series at least have that to look forward to!
Not much to say about the company this month. There was the press release about the true crime graphic novel they published a few years back, “Green River Killer,” that went out today. Turns out that the graphic novel, written by Jeff Jensen with art from Jonathan Case, is going to be made into a movie with actor Michael Sheen (the “Underworld” and “Twilight” films, along with much better stuff like “Frost/Nixon” and the Showtime series “Masters of Sex”) making his directorial debut and taking the role of the title killer. It was a good read, and hopefully it’ll make for an equally good movie. What’s most notable about it is that it’s probably the most highbrow film project Dark Horse has been involved in. That’s not to say I didn’t like “300” or the “Hellboy” movies, but this is an encouraging sign that the company is trying to broaden its resume beyond quality genre work. Diversity is one of the keys to longevity in the film business after all.
Writer Alex De Campi and artist Carla Speed McNeil struck a near-perfect balance of awfulness and excitement in the first volume of this series. There was always the chance that something could go wrong and that balance would be upset, but vol. 2 shows that these creators really know what they’re doing with this story of privileged American teens stuck in the (totally not a stand-in for Mexico) country of Mataguey. Things start off with the creators showing that they know how to subvert your expectations as the majority of the surviving teens’ encounter with the drug traffickers goes in an unexpected direction. This leads to some of our cast making it to the U.S. Embassy, others who wind up captured by the revolutionary army, and still more who go on to become captive of the traffickers, hook up with some drug-seeking British tourists, and get an eye plucked out by a bird of prey. All of what these kids are forced to endure should’ve made for a thoroughly depressing read except that the energy and over-the-top tone let you know that things shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously here. As a result, the rush to see how much worse things can get for our cast becomes thrilling rather than wearying.
Oh, and there’s also some delicious schadenfreude involving Charlene’s evil brother Chad. That guy deserved everything that happened to him in this volume, and more. Too bad that story thread has been closed off. Or has it? I didn’t see his body after all…
All of what I said applies to the first four issues in this new collection. The fifth, a spotlight on Charlene and how her gender identity issues were “treated” at a teen residential treatment center, is an entirely different beast. It still maintains the dramatic flair of what has come before, except that it’s pitched at a more grounded level as we see the horrific treatment that Charlene and other “problem” teen girls are subjected to. This makes for a compelling read with the potential to ruin your day as you hope that De Campi was sensationalizing the events here and that real thing isn’t nearly as bad. It’s a vain hope, I’m willing to bet. As good as this issue is, it’s also at odds with the other ones collected in this volume. If “No Mercy” was as popular as it deserved to be, this issue should’ve been spun off into its own miniseries where the creators could explore this subject at length, away from the enjoyably demented B-movie thrills this series traffics in.
This took over a year longer to arrive than I expected, but it doesn’t matter! The final volume of this series has made it to print after the long delay had me fearing that we’d never find out how this series ends. It picks up shortly after the bit of (what I found to be) unintentional humor that wrapped up the previous volume as mountaineers Habu and Fukumachi go their respective ways. The former on a treacherous climb up Everest via a route no one has tackled before, and the latter back down to base camp. Even though Fukumachi makes it back down alive -- and to a certain amount of fame thanks to the international furor surrounding Habu’s exploits -- his encounter with the man has stirred a passion in him that won’t be calmed until he tackles the tallest mountain in the world himself.
Jeff Lemire takes on the “X-Men” and Bendis’ run isn’t even in the ground or cold yet over here. (But that’s coming, sooner that I was expecting.) The bad news is that due to Marvel’s decision to give additional prominence to the Inhumans -- and get their own “X-Men”-esque film/TV franchise that they can have all to themselves -- we’re stuck with another riff on the “No More Mutants” story that was set up after “House of M.” In this case, the Terrigen Mists that were dispersed during “Infinity” are now revealed to be poisonous to and have sterilized mutants. This has led to Storm re-locating the school and all the mutants she and her team can find to someplace… warmer while they figure out what to do next. However, at least one individual has taken a proactive stance in dealing with this crisis. Unfortunately for everyone, that person is Mister Sinister and he just got his hands on Nightcrawler.
As familiar as parts of this storyline are, Lemire’s take on this iteration of the “X-Men” could also be described as traditional. That’s actually not a bad thing in this case as Bendis’ run has come off as somewhat aimless and lacking in cohesion. So the decision to get back to focusing on a specific team of mutants fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them (more than ever, of course) actually comes off as a welcome nostalgia trip for this longtime fan. It helps that the writer has a good handle on these character. In particular: Storm makes for a satisfyingly authoritative team leader, there’s some good interplay between Young Jean Grey and Old Man Logan as they overcome their mutual reluctance to join the team, and it’s nice seeing Colossus in a straightforwardly heroic mindset again after all these years. Granted, Nightcrawler appears to have fallen into a manically religious fugue state and Lemire has ditched Kieron Gillen’s revamp of Sinister, so there’s some irritation here. We also the always-energetic art of Humberto Ramos driving the action here and that helps make this volume a visual standout as well. Vol. 1 of “Extraordinary X-Men” is all about embracing the familiar, but in this case it’s the warm, welcoming kind that reminds you why you liked these characters and their world in the first place.
Comics in digital format are making up an increasingly large part of what I read. While having a physical edition of what I’m reading is great, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to buy a comic in that format for two reasons. One is that they’re on sale, and the other is that they retail for a far more appealing price than what I would pay for them in print. That’s the case with the new “Invincible Iron Man” series and the latest volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Both are from Bendis and continue the trend of the writer’s comics at Marvel being published in an expensive hardcover format before coming to paperback after six months or so. Normally I’d wait for the paperback edition, but both of these volumes were retailing from comiXology/Amazon digitally for less than what I’d pay for these volumes down the line. Which is a good thing too. I’d probably be feeling much less charitable towards these titles if I had to pay more for them.
Nick Spencer’s other “Captain America” title may be the one grabbing all of the headlines, but it’ll be a while until it gets its first collected edition. What? You were expecting something snappier as I transition into talking about Sam Wilson’s adventures as Cap? Well, that’s kind of a problem with this volume even though Spencer has a lot of good ideas about what the title character should be fighting against in this day and age. That’s because while Sam has been doing all of the things expected of him in this role -- joining the Avengers, fighting supervillains, standing in parades -- he also sees this as his chance to affect real social change. Spencer obliges him by setting Sam up against one of Marvel’s reliably racist supervillain groups, the Sons of the Serpent. This time around they’ve diversified into villainous schemes both low, kidnapping people trying to cross the border into America and experimenting on them, and high, offering their Trump-esque public-relations services to big companies.
You’ve got a hero who is all ready to fight the good fight and some bad guys who are cannily of-the-moment in their villainy. Toss in some art from the always great Daniel Acuna (and some nice but not quite as great work from Paul Renaud and Joe Bennett in the back half), as well as the return of CapWolf and I should’ve found this to be a must-read. As it is, this volume is just okay. There’s no doubt that Spencer’s heart is clearly in the right place as he’s writing this. It’s just that all of these elements play out in a fairly predictable fashion. Of course Sam’s efforts to do the right thing would misfire in the public eye, save for the handful of people who show up to tell him how much they appreciate what he’s doing -- that’s how this kind of plot always plays out. While the Serpent Solutions stuff is clever, their kind of villainy is also familiar and notable only for the amusement to be had by seeing their blandly corporate talking points being espoused by people in snake costumes. The only welcome surprise to this volume is seeing how well Misty Knight works with Sam both as support and as a straight woman to his actions. It’s not that this new direction Spencer has picked out for Sam is a bad one, there’s just nothing in it to be had beyond meeting your basic expectations for the kind of story it’s telling.