July 17, 2016
Comics lost a great talent earlier this year with the passing of Darwyn Cooke. He was an impeccable storyteller with an art style that may have appeared to be rooted in another era, yet effortlessly tapped into the iconic nature of whatever he was drawing. For a lot of people, “The New Frontier” is his masterwork. A re-imagining of the dawn of the Silver Age for DC’s superheroes, it’s a sprawling epic featuring every major and minor hero of the era. It starts off with the last mission of The Losers on Monster Island and culminates with a battle against a giant alien monster. In between, there’s the story of Korean War veteran and failed pacifist Hal Jordan trying to make it work as a test pilot, the martian who was accidentally brought to Earth and now tries to fit in as Detective J’onn J’onzz, and forensic scientist Barry Allen who is having the time of his life after an accident gave him super-speed. This is their story as well as those of the Challengers of the Unknown, an African-American superhero going by the name of John Henry and fighting for his people, intelligence operative and master gamesman Faraday, and a few others by the names of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. All of this is cast against the turbulent political times of the late 50’s and early 60’s as our heroes find that the only things tougher than taking down a supervillain are dealing with public opinion and a government that doesn’t quite trust them.
I said a lot of people consider this story to be Cooke’s masterwork, but I’m not one of them. For me, his best work would be his adaptations of Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels and it still depresses me to think that we’ll never see another one of them. “The New Frontier” is still pretty good as it’s hard not to find yourself drawn in by page after page of Cooke’s spectacular art (with colors from the exemplary Dave Stewart) as he gets to draw everything from dinosaur attacks, to Batman taking down a cult with J’onzz and Slam Bradley, to a psychedelic assault on an alien consciousness. Where it loses me is in the sheer sprawl of characters and plotlines throughout its 500-plus pages. Most of the focus is on B and C-tier characters, and there’s not enough development devoted to those in the latter group to make me feel that the time devoted to them was worth it. Except for Faraday who has a nice little “doing the right thing the wrong way” arc to his character. I also don’t have the overwhelming nostalgia for DC’s Silver Age that Cooke clearly does, so your mileage may vary here depending on how you feel about the era. It’s still easy to appreciate the level of craft and story being told in “The New Frontier,” but I’m left not feeling too bad that I waited this long to pick it up in this handy one-volume edition.
July 16, 2016
One night while walking home from a dinner date, Paul Dini was mugged and beaten within an inch of his life. Twenty-three years later, he decided to turn the story of the attack, his life at the time, and eventual recovery into a graphic novel with art from someone who is no stranger to Batman’s adventures (or worthwhile collaborations with Brian Azzarello), Eduadro Risso. The end result is alternately frightening, funny, indulgent, and life-affirming. It’s a bizarre mix of tones and styles that shouldn’t work when combined in one volume. I think the reason Dini and Risso are able to get away with it is because they know how to modulate them.
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July 15, 2016
Does Nagisa go a little crazy after the setup from the cliffhanger in the previous volume? Yup. Does he manage to rein himself in and deliver some satisfying comeuppance to the main antagonist from this arc? You better believe it. “Assassination Classroom” isn’t a series that will be remembered for its unpredictability, but rather its ability to deliver on the setups it promises. It’s also one where things won’t get too dark as Shonen Jump titles will never go that far. If it looks like they are, then that just means we’re in “final arc” territory. The rest of vol. 8 is a mix of amusing diversions (Koro-sensei tries to play matchmaker for the class) and setup for future storylines. After all, whatever happened to the person who taught Class E before Koro-sensei showed up? It finishes with a well-delivered bit of filler as nerdy otaku Takebayashi is tempted with being able to rejoin the rest of Kunugigaoka’s students so long as he badmouths his former classmates. The power of friendship trumps all in the end, as is Jumps remit, but does allow for some quality villainy from Principal Gakushu and his son.
Vol. 10 opens on a story that spotlights another of Koro-sensei’s weaknesses. His weakness for pudding! Then it segues into a mini-arc that has Karasuma teaching Class E about the virtues of parkour while their teacher reveals another weakness -- for trope-y sob stories! No time is wasted as we move into another arc that first has Koro-sensei trying to prove that he’s not a (complete) pervert before Shiro and Itona show up to take out the alien. Only… things don’t go as planned and Itona is left at the mercy of his tentacles and Class E. Does the power of friendship triumph here? Only as much as Koro-sensei loves his nudie magazines. I know I’m simplifying things here, but mangaka Yusei Matsui actually does a pretty good job of fleshing out Itona’s backstory and character here to make his motivations up to this point believable. He also gets bonus points for having Terasaka and his fellow numbskulls be the ones to bring Itona over to the side of Class E. In a way that actually feels credible and not a manipulation to make us like them more. It’s quality work all around in these volumes that makes me look forward to their adventures in babysitting for vol. 11.
July 13, 2016
It's a run that has its moments, but no real plan or satisfying follow-through.
July 11, 2016
(No, this isn’t the start of a new trend. This is what happens when I forgot to put the post I banked for Sunday up on Sunday. Uh, in case anyone was wondering.)
In his afterword, artist Scott Wegener describes this latest “Atomic Robo” miniseries as an answer to the question of “What would it be like if the ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ franchises did a crossover?” I think he’s greatly overstating the presence of the “Bourne” franchise in this equation as a better description of this series would simply be “Atomic Robo” does “Pacific Rim.” Shaking off the middling diversion that was the previous miniseries in short order, “Ring of Fire” finds Task Force Ultra -- the organization that was formed by Majestic 12 after they seized Tesladyne in vol. 8 -- having to deal with a worldwide outbreak of Biomega (read: Kaiju). Even with all of the resources at their disposal, they still find themselves behind the proverbial eightball against this threat as they desperately try to get enough Titan mechs and pilots ready to combat this menace.
It’s hard to feel too sorry for Ultra, though, as they’re still painted as the bad guys in this situation despite their intentions. Ultra is still on the lookout for the members of Tesladyne who escaped their takeover, and it’s this motley group -- Bernard, Lang, Vik, Foley the intern, and more -- that has to find a way to bring Robo back (which is easy) and find a solution to the Biomega crisis (difficult enough to make up for the ease of bringing Robo back).
If you can get past how much this particular story pays homage to “Pacific Rim” then you’ll be in for a good time. The action and pace are frantic but never exhausting, the science talk only adds to the drama, most of the jokes hit, and the end result is that “Ring of Fire” feels like a welcome return to form after what we got in vol. 9. While Brian Clevinger’s writing is mostly spot-on, this his really Wegener’s show as he gets to come up with lots of dynamic Biomega and Titan designs and then have them fight each other with the kind of energy I normally expect to see from the likes of Stuart Immonen. Even if the end of the volume shows that someday we’ll have to stage an intervention regarding the “But it’s not quite over…” endings Clevinger serves up, what we get here makes me excited to read “Atomic Robo” again.
July 9, 2016
The previous volumes of this series have carried an albatross around their metaphorical necks. (It’s a reference, not a weird sex thing. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was turned into a weird sex thing given how this title rolls.) An albatross by the name of Myrtle “Kegelface” Spurge. It’s understandable that series called “Sex Criminals” would have a kind of “Sex Cop” as its main antagonist, but she goes about her business in a way that feels counterproductive, unfair, and more than a little vindictive. I have an immense dislike for the character, is what I’m saying here. So I was surprised to see that writer Matt Fraction managed to humanize even a little bit in this volume.
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July 8, 2016
I thought I knew who the antagonists were in this series going into this volume. You have Silver Mask, now revealed as Hilmes -- son of the murdered King Osores, who was the secret power behind Lusitania’s invasion of Ecbatana and has a serious mad-on for its King Andragoras and (by extension) Arslan. Yet Andragoras isn’t on the side of the angels either, as he was the murderer of Osores, and his parenting skills are right up there with Gendo Ikari’s. There’s also Innocentis, the king of Lusitania whose girth is exceeded only by his foolishness. A recent arrival to the cast is Duke Guiscard of Lusitania whose association should mark him as one of the bad guys, but whose cunning and pragmatism make it hard for me to find any reason to dislike him.
As it turns out, the real antagonists here are outright villains -- the fanatical followers of Yaldabaoth, Lusitania’s religion of choice. One of them, Bodin the priest, has been kind of a background character in the previous volumes sporting the wide-eyed look of a crazed zealot who enjoys nothing more than throwing infidels on a pyre. He gets a more prominent role after a fellow high-ranking member of his faith is murdered under mysterious circumstances and then demands that 10,000 infidels be slain as recompense. While this leads to some marvelous trolling on Guiscard’s part, it stops being a laughing matter when the Yaldabaoth Templars arrive in town. This group slaughtered 250,000 men, women, and children in their last campaign and they are determined to have the king see the rightness of their ways once again.
Bodin’s zealotry may come off as some over-the-top villainy, but it’s not hard to see how his kind of thinking would mellow out over a thousand years to the kind of religious partisanship we see in this country today. But that’s just my opinion. It does make me eager to see how the title character and his group will deal with these characters when they face off against them, even if it seems likely that they’ll be dispatched swiftly and decisively. You see, even if these fanatics of Yaldabaoth make for good bad guys, their one-sided villainy is out of place in a work from Hiromu Arakawa. It’s all just shades of gray as she showed us in “Fullmetal Alchemist,” though humanizing these crazies is probably too much to ask even from a mangaka of her skill.
July 6, 2016
Garth Ennis won’t be able to write comics about all of the stories to be told in WWII. He continues to give it his best try in the two arcs in this volume that detail some drastically different experiences in the European and Pacific Theaters. “Our Wild Geese Go” has the writer showing us what it was like for Irishmen who technically deserted their army to go fight in the war. While the Nazis are still the bad guys here, the scars left by Ireland’s bloody history of nationalism threaten to undo the unity of one particular squad. “The Tokyo Club” is an exclusive one with some very specific requirements: First, you have to fly escort to bombers headed to Tokyo from Iwo Jima. Next, you have to make it back to base alive. Then, you do it all over again in another day or two. Neither story is particularly exceptional by Ennis’ accomplished work in the war story genre. However, they do benefit from his standard attention to detail in recounting these specific experiences and characterization that helps put faces on them.
Where they’re let down, in part, is in the art from Tomas Aira. I didn’t say much about his work in the previous volume because he handled the tank combat action well and was dealing with a relatively small cast in both of the stories he illustrated. Aira is still good with the action and the scenes that have the Irish infantrymen under fire and the pilots braving the skies to Tokyo are the most striking in the book. The problem is that his characters tend to have a generic look about them and it becomes difficult to tell the supporting cast apart after a while. It’s kind of a problem in the first story, and a bigger one in the second with its expanded cast. Maybe the monthly grind was getting to Aira at this point, but I found myself wishing for someone like Steve Dillon to come over and show us how to distinguish a roster like this. The first two volumes of Ennis’ “War Stories” at Vertigo boasted an impressive roster of artists in their pages. I’d say it’s time to take a cue from that format and bring in a new artist with each arc. It couldn’t hurt to give Aira some time off so he can show us what he can do when he’s not delivering a book a month.
July 4, 2016
I’m taking a break from talking about manga on this Monday since it’s July 4th and I’ve had this in my “to review” pile for well over a month now. Brian Wood’s first creator-owned series for Dark Horse had its problems, but still managed to run for thirty issues. “Rebels” is his ground-level look at the people who fought in the Revolutionary War and it lasted for all of ten issues. I would’ve liked to have seen it last longer because it’s main story, about the exploits of taciturn rebel Seth Abbott, is pretty entertaining. After a brief look at his childhood growing up with a hardassed father, we see Seth jumping into the thick of the revolutionary spirit fighting against land-stealing Redcoats, sinking a British granite transport, and overseeing the hauling of cannon several hundred miles overland during the winter. It’s good high adventure, but Wood also infuses every step of Seth’s journey with the politics and upbringing that inform his present-day decisions. Which don’t always turn out to be the right ones, as his wife will attest to. Seth emerges as a character worth following through the war, and Andrea Mutti’s detailed, gritty pencils represent the period and the character’s journey well.
It would’ve been nice if the ten issues in this collection had been given over entirely to Seth’s journey. There’s some awkwardness as the story jumps forward seven years between the first and last issues to show us the beginning of his adjustment to the post-war era. I was involved enough in Seth’s journey that I wish Wood had focused entirely on it in in these ten issues. Instead, we also get other stories of uneven quality about other people contributing to the revolution in their own ways. The story about Sarah Hull, who fought on the field at the Battle of Bemis Heights, is quite good with its focus on the role of women in the military still feeling relevant today. As for the others, stories of a rebellious poster-printer, Seth’s encounter with a former slave, a Native American who has loyalties to his people and the local militia, and a British citizen who chose to sign up for the regiments rather than go to prison, they really needed more space to reach their full potential. Especially the last one.
Better to have given the space to fleshing out Seth’s story in greater detail is how I felt about them in the end. As it is, “Rebels” is an interesting look into an era that doesn’t often get any significant focus in comics. It’s also one whose potential was not, and will likely not ever be, fully realized.
July 3, 2016
When it comes to raising the stakes in superhero comics, Jonathan Hickman took things about as far as you can go with his runs on “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” The fate of the world wasn’t at stake in those titles, it was the fate of the entire multiverse. Whoever was going to follow in his footsteps on those titles was going to have to make a choice: go bigger, go smaller, or go different. Mark Waid and Al Ewing are writers smart enough to know that going bigger was not the smart option here (if that would even be possible). Waid, with his history in character-driven superheroics on “The Flash” and “Daredevil,” went with the “go smaller” option on “All-New All-Different Avengers vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven,” as most of the drama comes from how his eclectic team tries to get along with each other. Meanwhile over in “New Avengers: A.I.M. vol. 1 -- Everything is New,” Ewing is picking up on one of the threads from Hickman’s run after Roberto “Sunspot” DaCosta bought out the terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics and re-branded it Avengers Idea Mechanics. He’s “going different” as this team is facing off against transformed crystal-headed citizens of Paris that are acting as a phone to the afterlife and a cthonic wizard of the fifth cosmos.
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