I really liked the first volume of this series, especially at the price it was being offered at on Amazon. In the months since I wrote that first review, my affection for it has actually grown. Mangaka Izumi Tsubaki really nailed the essence of character-driven comedy with that first volume of this series about a highschool girl who pines for a handsome if totally clueless guy who also creates shojo manga. It was immensely charming and very funny to see Nozaki, Sakura, and their friends interact with each other while gently skewering the conventions of shojo manga. After a while, it got to the point where I’d keep checking Amazon’s page for the digital release of vol. 2 because I’m locked into buying the series in that format right now. Yes, I know that I can get vol. 3 RIGHT NOW, but it’ll look funny by itself on my bookshelf and I’m not going to re-buy vols. 1-2 just to fix that problem! Why can’t Yen Press start putting this series out digitally first like they do with the lesser “Handa-kun?” The digital release of that series is running ahead of the print and I don’t see any reason why they can’t do that with this series!
Anyway, vol. 2 of “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun” continues the high standard set by its predecessor as the interaction between its various cast members yields great humor without re-treading the same territory. In this volume we have Sakura accompanying Nozaki on his day off as he realizes he has no hobbies, Yuzuki as she smashes the dreams of more men who realize she’s the “Glee Club’s Lorelai,” basketball star and new player Wakamatsu whose interactions with Yuzuki are comedically awkward gold, Mikoshiba acting as a model for Sakura’s art club, and Kashima aggravating Hori to even more violent heights when she gets in her head that he wants to be treated like a princess. It’s great stuff and it manages to twist the digital knife in my gut even harder as I realize that it won’t be until August that I find out what these characters are up to next. Easily one of the best new series I’ve read so far this year.
This volume collects the final six issues of the “Kanan” series, the first one of Marvel’s “Star Wars” line to be cancelled. Getting the axe after twelve issues may make it seem like this series was a creative misfire, but that’s not entirely the case here. If anything, “Kanan” was hamstrung by the decision to extend a solid five-issue series about the origins of the title character into an ongoing series. Putting out a comic to tie into the “Star Wars: Rebels” TV series was obviously an easy call. Except that doing a series called “Kanan” does kind of limit its focus, as does the flashback structure of these volumes. I don’t know if this was an editorial decision, writer Greg Weisman’s choice, or the result of someone at Disney/Lucasfilm saying that doing anything explicitly concurrent with “Rebels” was off-limits, but it just feels odd to have an ongoing series where every major story is the main character flashing back to a defining time his youth.
Issues with structure aside, “First Blood” still winds up being an engaging war story that helps to flesh out the title character even more. While vol. 1 took us back to when the rebel formerly known as Caleb Dume was on the streets and struggling to survive after Order 66 was implemented, this one shows us how he became Master Billaba’s padawan and came to fight in the Clone Wars. Caleb’s inquisitiveness makes him an engaging presence here, while the clash of his youthful inexperience with the harshness of war provides some real drama. The other characters aren’t developed as well, and General Grievous’ appearance amounts to little more than fan service, but Wiseman still delivers an effective coming-of-age tale for his protagonist. It also helps that Pepe Larraz returns for the main arc to provide some high-energy art that also helps accentuate the more endearing aspects of Caleb’s character. The final story is a one-off that has Kanan and Ezra going off on an adventure together that brings the entire series full-circle in a way and provides additional ties to the first season of “Rebels.” It’s a nice enough snapshot of what this series could have been if it was allowed to be a tie-in comic not shackled down by its structure.
Grant Morrison tackling a continuity-free reinvention of “Wonder Woman” with frequent and talented artistic collaborator Yanick Paquette: It sounds like can’t-miss proposition. The good news on that front is that “Wonder Woman: Earth One” is a solid read that is ultimately worth its hardcover cover price. The thing here is it’s Paquette’s art that dazzles more than Morrison’s writing here. Morrison’s take on the Amazonian princess does contain a lot of interesting elements though it ultimately comes off as a prologue for future stories than a compelling tale in its own right.
I honestly didn’t think we’d ever get to this point, but the end of the Mignolavese appears to be nigh. What with the final issue of “Hellboy in Hell” arriving and all of the hoopla that generated due to its status as the “last” story involving the character and the buildup towards the end of “B.P.R.D.” that kicks off here. Mike Mignola and longtime co-writer John Arcudi pull out a lot of stops here to make good on this volume’s subtitle. We get Johann flexing his newfound power with the Sledgehammer armor just in time for one of the Ogdru Jahad to land in Kansas. While he and Kate team up to take on that dragon, its arrival sends Fenix into a catatonic shock. That’s because she’s keyed into the psychic link it shares with one of the B.P.R.D.’s deadliest foes, the Black Flame. His stronghold in New York would appear to be impregnable, were it not for the sudden appearance of a member from a certain organization that hasn’t been heard from since “The Garden of Souls” (vol. 7 of the original series). On top of all this, Iosif in Russia is feeling the strain of it all and contemplates doing something spectacularly ill-advised with his little vampire demon prisoner.
Yeah, there’s a lot going on in this volume and it makes for satisfying buildup. Most of the time. Mignola and Arcudi, along with artist Laurence Campbell really do let you know that things are escalating towards a final battle and the story has a lot of narrative and momentum as a result. Yet there are some things that are glossed over, such as the return of that group from “The Garden of Souls” and the magical techniques that are used to interfere with the Black Flame, and come off as storytelling deus ex machinas rather than the cool concepts the writers clearly felt they were delivering. Also, while Campbell is great with delivering a creepy mood and some killer visuals to drive it home, he’s less successful in depicting compelling hand-to-hand fighting. Or maybe it was just a mistake to have the showdown with the Black Flame hinge on the big guy duking it out with Liz and Johann. If this is his final appearance in this series, then he goes out as he has lived: As a character who is as powerful as he is personality-free.
“End of Days” does get me fired up for the end of the series, even with the “no good can come of this” business between Iosif and Varvarra at its close. The title’s real challenge will be in seeing if its momentum is sustained after the next volume appears to be exorcism-related filler. I can understand if Mignola, Arcudi, and Campbell need time to prepare for their climactic storyline, but at this moment I’m wondering if they could’ve found a better way to do it.
After picking up all of those volumes of “TMNT” digitally (and vol. 13 while I was reading through them), this marks the first volume of their ongoing series from IDW that I’ve actually had to wait for. This managed to happen at the most dramatic point in the story so far as the most recent volume ended with some shocking developments regarding the title’s status quo. So I’ve been quite eager to see where writer/co-plotter Tom Waltz and fellow co-plotters Kevin Eastman and Bobby Curnow are going to take things. That winds up being into some interesting and emotional places, but the overall effect is diminished by how busy this volume feels.
I think if I wanted to be a hipster, this is the volume where I would declare that this series is “Over.” That’s right “One-Punch Man” is no longer cool because our hero no longer embodies the title of his series. When an alien spacecraft lands on Earth and proceeds to lay waste to the city, all of the Class S heroes (and Saitama) are on hand to fight off the attack. Actually, the S-rank heroes busy themselves with fighting off an immensely powerful shape-shifting alien while Saitama strolls onto the ship and takes the fight directly to the invaders. Things go about as well as you’d expect for the bad guys until Saitama meets their leader. One punch later and… he only shatters the leader’s armor only to unveil his ultimate form! When the last page rolls around, it’s clear that they’ve been trading blows for a while.
Yeah, I know, “*spoilers*.” But c’mon, it’s not like you’re reading this series for its captivating plot. The events of this volume do raise an important question. Namely, “WHAT IS ‘ONE-PUNCH MAN’ IF ITS HERO CAN’T DEFEAT HIS ENEMIES WITH ONE PUNCH ANYMORE!?!?!?!?” The answer is one of two things: Either it’s the end of all good things in this world and all future expressions/experiences of joy will merely be pale echoes of past glories as we try to remember what true happiness really felt like as the seconds tick down towards the ends of our lives and the universe itself.
Fortunately the “or” in this situation happens to be, “Still a really damn good superhero manga.” ONE and Yusuke Murata introduce a ton of new (mostly distinct) characters and set up a seemingly insurmountable threat in an absurd yet undeniably effective manner. The S-ranks’ fight against the shape-shifter on the ground is also involving enough with its expert balance of struggle, action, and humor that it could’ve sustained the entire volume by itself. Yet we would’ve lost Saitama’s hijinks on the ship as he defeats all of their defenses with typical ease until he meets the big bad. Yeah, this may be the volume where the protagonist of “One-Punch Man” no longer defeats all of his enemies in one punch, it continues to be tremendously entertaining. Hipsters be damned.
This penultimate volume doesn’t get off to the best of starts. Sure it shows us Toni Chu in Heaven making nice with Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan, but then it jumps over to showing us Olive Chu’s future career with the FDA. It’s good for some laughs, but its relevance to the main story is unclear at this point. Then the story jumps tracks again in the second issue to show us some of Mason Savoy’s history, the Pope getting on the anti-chicken bandwagon, Amelia’s writer’s block, and Tony and Colby heading off to Yamapalu (last visited in vol. 2) to get some answers. I realize that between this volume and the next, we’re down to the last ten issues of this series. It’s just that the opening issues here really had me worrying that writer John Layman didn’t have a plan for how to properly wrap up his signature series.
It wasn’t all panels, screenings, and checking out places to eat at the con. ...Actually on second thought, it really was with my phone and 3DS picking up the slack otherwise. But for the plane trips there and back I had to rely on the comics in my backpack. They were generally quite good and one of them even managed to convince me to keep following it after I was prepared to give it up after this volume. So after the break are my thoughts on “This Damned Band,” “Hellboy in Mexico,” “Black Science,” “Yotsuba&!,” and “Paradise Residence.”
I’m doing my best to shake off the annual bout of post-con depression here. This year’s Fanime didn’t have the depressing lows or thrilling high of the previous one, but it was an awesome experience overall. That’s because there was enough going on between panels, screenings, and visits to the dealer’s hall and artist’s alley that I didn’t need to kill any time by hanging out at my room unless I had to. For things like sleep. John and I are already making plans for next year with the hope that we’ll find an easier way to get rooms, that Steve will be back next year, and that we’ll get more of our friends to come along. In the meantime, what follows are my thoughts on the con that was, along with what has become our “Day Zero” tradition.