July 31, 2016
Wonder twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are back and this time they’re adapting a short story from Neil Gaiman. Dark Horse has made a small cottage industry of getting top-flight creators -- John Bolton, P. Craig Russell, and Michael Zulli -- to adapt shorts from Gaiman over the years, and “How to Talk” is a funny, quirky, and a little scary addition to them. It’s about two friends, Enn and Vic, who are on their way to a party in the suburbs. Vic exudes confidence and has no problems talking to the opposite sex. Enn is just the opposite, but is encouraged by his friend to get to know some of the girls who have decided to attend this party. What the sociably reluctant teen finds out is that the members of the opposite sex may very well be from another planet. At least, maybe just the ones who are attending this party.
“How to Talk” operates from that classic assumption that the female mind and unknowable to men. Gaiman just runs with it in a slightly more literal direction for his story. As for the adaptation work by Ba and Moon, it’s a huge step up from what I experienced with their efforts on “Two Brothers” last year. The art is lively with a dreamlike quality that helps with the suspension of disbelief for the story’s more fantastical elements. Those only break through in a piercing moment of nightmare towards the end. Enn is something of a blank slate as a character, but his concerns help make him relatable and that blankness works well as a contrast when he’s put up against the respective histories of the girls he meets at the parties. It’s great work from all of the parties involved and warrants an easy recommendation to their respective fans. As well as anyone who is wondering if these adaptations of Gaiman’s short stories are worth checking out.
July 30, 2016
Yeah, there were lots of interesting comics titles announced in the run-up to Comic-Con from Marvel. I liked the fact that Al Ewing’s “Avengers” titles will be continuing on in “U.S.Avengers” and “Ultimates [Squared].” The idea of the new “Champions” series being made up of teen superheroes opposed to the events of “Civil War II” sounds nice, even if Mark Waid strikes me as being just a little too old to write about characters so young (give it to Noelle Stevenson, is what I’d like to shout though my rational mind says that Waid will still deliver a solid read regardless) and I’m sad to see Humberto Ramos off “Extraordinary X-Men” to write this title. No America Chavez title either, but I’ll let everyone else be annoyed about that for me.
Most of the movie and TV news coming out of the con was to my liking as well. Casting Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” sounds downright crazy, until you hear director James Gunn explain his reasoning. Joss Whedon said that he’d come back into the Marvel fold to direct a “Black Widow” solo movie, which I’d love to see. I just watched the new “Doctor Strange” trailer and saw Chiwetel Ejiofor become my hero for the “wi-fi password” business at the end of it. Oh, and the “Legion” trailer for the series on FX next year looks pretty slick. If it hews closest to Si Spurrier’s take on the character, then it might wind up becoming a must-see in my book.
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July 29, 2016
Here is where we take a break from any long-term story threads this title has been nurturing. Anyone expecting to learn more about Chise and Elias’ pasts, the mage school that approached Elias in the previous volume, or what that evil alchemist from the first couple of volumes is up to will have to wait and see if mangaka Kore Yamazaki decides to touch upon any of them in vol. 6. What we get here is one subplot being capped off in emotional fashion as Chise lends a helping hand to the succubus who fell in love with the old man who tends his flower garden. The old man is dying and the succubus is beside herself with fear and guilt at this thought, as her presence is still draining his life force even though she doesn’t intend for it to happen. With time running out, Chise feels that the best way for this situation to be resolved is to cook up some fairy ointment that will allow the old man to finally see the spirit that has been at his side for many years. There’s relatively little drama in the making of this ointment, but Yamazaki does a great job of selling the feelings of the primary characters in this story. When they finally meet, the emotions of the scene ring true in bittersweet fashion.
The end of that story segues quite smoothly into the next one as the effort Chise expended in making the ointment has a devastating effect on her body. Unsure of how to properly heal a human, Elias accepts Oberon’s offer of medical assistance and crosses the threshold with Chise into Tir Na Nog, The Land of the Fae. While Chise gets some decidedly unconventional medical assistance from a changeling doctor, Elias hears out Titania’s request for him and his charge to come live in Tir Na Nog. What’s most interesting in this section, and the rest of the volume in general, is the worldbuilding that Yamazaki engages in. Fairy medicine doesn’t work the same way as the human stuff does, but there are clear and logical rules set out for how it does. We also get to learn about Silky’s tragic-then-hopeful background, and find out about the traditions and terrors lurking in Yuletide. Vol. 5 ends with a hint that we may be getting back to one of the threads that was put on hold here. Yet it shows that even when Yamazaki decides to step back and flesh out the world she has created within this series, the results are still pretty fantastic.
July 27, 2016
It's a newly-minted Eisner-winning series and a return to form for Brubaker and Phillips.
July 25, 2016
Yup, fine. Between driving down on Friday and hanging out with Steve afterwards and on Saturday, I probably spent less time at the con than I have in past years. There was still plenty of rummaging through the half-off bins as well as the four panels I attended, and fun was had in these activities. Particularly in seeing creators I like in person (as well as one industry person that I could’ve done without) and to hear them talk about their craft. Tsutomu Nihei’s appearance on Saturday was my main reason for attending; though, I may scale things back to just attending one day next year. Yeah, I’m complaining about a first world problem and deserve to be mocked for it accordingly. That’s probably not the best lead-in to my thoughts on the four panels I did check out, but they can be found after the break.
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July 24, 2016
There has been some consternation over the fact that America Chavez has not been given a solo series over at Marvel yet. Well, her creators have decided to take matters into their own hands over at Image. Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta -- Wait, you didn’t think I meant Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie after they gave the character her star turn in their “Young Avengers” series? Chavez was created by Casey and Dragotta in the pages of their semi-forgotten “Vengeance” series almost a decade ago. Now they’ve giving us “All-America Comix” spotlighting the adventures of one America Vasquez, a Latina superheroine with unspecified (as of yet) powers.
For me the most worrisome thing about this series is Dragotta’s involvement as this implies “East of West” will be on hiatus while he’s illustrating this. Other people will likely have issues with the fact that Casey created Chavez as a straight woman who didn’t wear panties for reasons that were very important to the plot. Because reasons. If this is the version of Chavez that he’s trying to reclaim, then the reaction to the first issue of “All-America Comics” will be VERY interesting to see. This is even before you take into account Casey’s predilection for doing things differently for the sake of being different while he’s clearly trying to tap into a very specific set of fanboy/girl expectations here. Unless Casey adjusts his usual approach to superhero comics, I’m expecting this to be a trainwreck of epic proportions.
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July 23, 2016
So, how about that Frank Cho walking of his job of providing variant covers for Greg Rucka’s “Wonder Woman” run? I was tempted to take the artist’s side at first since I feel he gets a lot of flack for having a style where all the women default to “sexy” and the various “Outrage!” sketch variants he does at conventions (whose trolling I find deeply amusing). Then it was pointed out to me that this “Wonder Woman” job he had was a paid gig and therefore subject to DC’s, and Rucka’s as well in this case, approval. Now, he just looks like a whiner throwing a hissyfit because he couldn’t draw Wonder Woman’s panties. The smart thing for him to do would’ve been to acquiesce to the publisher’s demands and alter his art as they saw fit. Then he could’ve sold the original “uncensored” art for an exorbitantly marked up price, satisfied in the knowledge this is what his fans really wanted. He’s out of a job now, but you shouldn’t feel sorry for him. He’ll be back either at Marvel, or doing his own thing through Image drawing all the sexy women he can any way he wants.
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July 22, 2016
As I write this, Comic-Con is almost upon us. That means there are all sorts of announcements, official and otherwise, about upcoming titles from the major publishers hitting the internet. In the case of Dark Horse, that includes “Ether” a five-issue miniseries from writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin about an inter-dimensional explorer whose scientific mind is challenged when his help is requested in a realm of fantasy. Kindt says that fantasy has never been a genre he’s a fan of, so the main character is acting as his surrogate as he interrogates its tropes. “Neil Gaiman’s Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire” is another in the company’s semi-ongoing adaptation of short stories from the author. This time, Shane Oakley adapts a short that satirizes gothic literature while also prefiguring some of the stuff that Gaiman would touch on when he went on to write “Sandman” (he wrote the story four years before starting work on that seminal comic). There’s also “Spell on Wheels” from writer Kate Leth and artist Megan Levens, another five-issue miniseries about a group of witches who go on a road trip to retrieve their objects of power. All of these sound promising and will be out either later this year or very early next.
Now if we can get some good manga news coming from the company out of the con I’ll be even more pleased…
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July 20, 2016
Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo (with his loyal army of inkers) are ideally suited to tackling the adventures of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. The writer, through his runs on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “Thor,” has shown that he knows how to handle the strangest parts of this shared universe, tossing off the most over-the-top details about it with ease. As for the artist, he’s shown over the years, between his work at Vertigo and Marvel that there isn’t really anything he can’t draw. Now this is going to sound more than a little self-congratulatory as I say that this first volume bears out my thoughts in grand fashion. Within the five issues collected here, Strange has to deal with the everyday magical creepy-crawlers that infest Manhattan, a possession by nomadic soul-eaters, Zelda Staunton -- a librarian with an infestation of mind maggots, and an astral projection gone awry that requires him to cleave his way back to his body. Oh, and an organization known as the Empirikul who are set on wiping out the plague on reality they call “magic” from the multiverse.
The two creators deliver an experience with this first volume that’s as gloriously weird as you’d expect from them. Bachalo rises to the challenge of rendering all of these magical creatures -- as well as Strange’s otherworldly townhouse -- in vivid detail without the jarring shifts in style that marked his (clearly rushed) work on the latter half of Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” run. Aaron delivers an eccentrically heroic protagonist in Strange, as he (both the writer and the character) clearly relish the chance to prove their skills when dealing with the fantastically bizarre.
My only concern with the series so far is in the broad strokes of the plot: It has the main character going about his business only to be confronted by an enemy that is out to destroy him and everything he stands for. This is basically the same setup for the “God Butcher” arc from Aaron’s (really great) first couple of volumes of “Thor: God of Thunder.” Some may cry foul here, but the writer does a great job of making this plot specific to Strange as he broadens the Sorcerer’s world and finds a great subplot for his manservant Wong. Said subplot is also directly relevant to the ongoing problem of establishing the rules for how Strange can use magic without coming off as impossibly powerful. It’s a winning debut for Aaron and Bachalo and worth picking up for anyone who has an interest in the character (assuming they can find this hardcover as cheap as I did).
July 18, 2016
If you were expecting Inio Asano’s story of adolescent love, loss, and ANGST to get any happier with this second volume, then I’d bet this is the first of his manga you’ve read. In that case, congratulations on taking the plunge! Much like real life, however, vol. 2 shows that this series is going to be long road of ups and downs where the valleys can get wrist-slittingly depressing and the peaks always have some kind of nasty catch waiting for you at the top.
If this is what the series has to offer, then why read it at all? That’s because Asano is really good at making Punpun’s experience feel relatable. Part of that is through the ongoing gimmick of drawing the character in a crude, cartoonish fashion, but the mangaka also nails the feelings of awkwardness, anxiety, and fear that we all felt at that age. In Punpun’s case, his arc in this volume involves dealing with his feelings for Aiko in middle school as she (apparently) becomes close with the star of the badminton team. The onslaught of drama that ensues would be unbearable in lesser hands, yet Asano knows when to keep the story grounded and when to let it soar to fantastic heights of whimsy.
It’s not all about Punpun in this volume, as we learn just why his Uncle Yuichi is such a sad sack. After meeting a nice girl at a coffee shop and subsequently doing his best to sabotage their potential relationship, he confesses to an almost-affair that ruined him professionally and personally. The level of self-loathing on display here with Yuichi is palpable to an impressive extent. Even so, if his arc had a conventional “healed by the love of a good woman” ending it’d still feel pretty satisfying. Except that nothing is ever easy in this series as the quasi-cliffhanger ending to this volume makes clear. “Goodnight Punpun” isn’t the kind of series you read to take your mind off of a hard day, but it offers up enough emotional truth and connection to fully invest me in the struggles of its characters.