August 31, 2016
David Walker and Ramon Villalobos’ “Nighthawk” series was cancelled this week. There was a bit of an uproar about this as it was apparently a well-liked series that dealt with white-hot social issues as the title character headed to Chicago to confront its gang violence problem. Unfortunately, while the people who want their superhero comics to feature storylines reflecting current political and social issues are certainly a vocal bunch, there really aren’t that many of them. Less than 16K according to the sales numbers on the latest issue of “Nighthawk.” I’m part of the problem here because even though Walker is a rising star in the comics world (and the writer of the excellent “Shaft” miniseries from last year) I honestly couldn’t be bothered to care about a series featuring the “Not-Batman” member of the “Squadron Supreme.” While it won’t do anything for the current state of the series, people are being asked to show their support for it by pre-ordering the collection of its six issues. That, I can do. Maybe when it arrives in January I’ll see how good it was and retroactively castigate myself for not supporting it sooner.
Meanwhile (to show you where my priorities really lie), it’s been revealed Kieron Gillen isn’t quite done with the company yet! He teased five new comics projects, one of which is a new ongoing title for the House of Ideas. Granted, this could be a new “Star Wars” project to follow the soon-to-be-concluded “Darth Vader” series as opposed to something set in the Marvel Universe. I’d be perfectly happy with either outcome, honestly.
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August 29, 2016
The aftermath of the American Civil War isn’t the last place I’d expect to see as the setting for a manga, but it’s pretty close. “Sacred Beasts” kicks right off with its high concept: In the face of losing the war, the Northern States resorted to using “forbidden arts” to create unstoppable soldiers based on the creatures of myth and legend. They won the war, but now these creatures -- Incarnates -- struggle to fit in as their bestial natures start to overwhelm their human aspects. It’s the personal responsibility of Hank, the captain of the Incarnate platoon and one himself, to track down the Incarnates who have lost themselves and put an end to the danger they pose. Even when it means incurring the wrath of their loved ones, like one Nancy Schaal Bancroft who tries to take him out with an elephant gun the first time she sees him. It should naturally follow from that violent first encounter that the young girl accompanies Hank on his job after she learns that it isn’t as cut-and-dried as it appeared to her. I mean, that’s how these stories work, right?
While the setting may be novel, the story being told within it is anything but. If you go into “Sacred Beasts” expecting to be wowed by its imaginative plotting, then you’re going to come away very disappointed. Those of you who enter with low expectations, or (perhaps more ideal) haven’t already read too many mismatched protagonists take down mythical monsters stories will probably be more engaged by its modest charms. MAYBE, the two-person mangaka team behind this title, invests the title with some gritty, detailed art that makes the setting appear as haunting as it needs to be while also standing out from other manga titles. The stories themselves are also competently executed with some token nods towards the moral ambiguity of Hank’s job and fleshing out his and Schaal’s characters beyond their initial appearances.
If you were being particularly generous, it’s possible to interpret the Incarnates as a metaphor for wartime post-traumatic stress disorder. Here are these soldiers who gave their all for their side in the war, and came back irrevocably changed by their experience and unable to fit back into society or properly relate to those around them. Unfortunately, the metaphor falls apart (or reflects a very grim perspective on mental illness) when all of the encounters with other Incarnates wind up having the same outcome. Probably best not to think to hard on the idea of “Sacred Beasts” having any real depth beyond its monster-of-the-week-killing goals and approach it as a kind of supernatural action/fantasy/horror comfort food.
August 28, 2016
Robert Kirkman has joked in the past that his dream with “Invincible” was to hand it over to other creators at some point and have it live on in much the same way that Marvel and DC titles do. That one day he would pick up the latest issue of the title, from younger creators he didn’t know, and hurl it across the room in a fit of rage as he screams, “This isn’t ‘Invincible!’” Well, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now as “Invincible” kicks off its final arc, a twelve-issue epic entitled “The End of All Things,” in these solicitations. This is happening for two reasons: The first is that Kirkman felt that the issues he was plotting out were building to a conclusion for the adventures of Mark Grayson and family, friends, and frenemies. The second is that longtime artist Ryan Ottley was also feeling the same way, in regards to the monthly grind of putting the book out for the past decade-plus. If both of the creators that have defined this series want to call it a day, that’s fine with me. “Invincible” has been consistently great for the majority of its run, and I’m sure they’ll come up with a worthy finale as they’re still firing on all cylinders.
That said, this being “Invincible” after all, it’s probably time to start a death pool to see who’s going to make it out alive. Given the way this series has rolled after all this time, we’re going to see a lot of good and bad people meeting their ends before the end comes in issue #144.
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August 27, 2016
There will be no review of Garth Ennis’ and John McCrea’s “All-Star Section 8” here. I was planning to do one, and it would’ve focused on how it was pretty much what you’d expect: Ennis bringing in DC’s heroes for one more kicking with as much bathroom humor as he could get away with in a non-mature readers title. This time around, it has the added kick in the teeth of showing that not even Superman was exempt from the writer’s contempt as he has been in the past. Instead of making everything right again, he keeps the vicious cycle that Sixpack is stuck in going so that he and the rest of the DCU can continue to exist. It makes his neck-snapping of Zod in “Man of Steel” look almost saint-like in comparison.
Then I read Charlotte Finn’s review/analysis of the series over at Comics Alliance and realized that I had missed the point of the series entirely. While it’s ostensibly a revival of the worst superteam ever from “Hitman,” Finn makes a great case for “ASS8” being a metaphor for the perils of addiction. Sixpack may be a terrible hero, but it’s his love of these characters and their universe that keeps him from realizing that he’s really a drunk freezing to death in an alley who has dreamed the whole thing into being. From that perspective, Superman’s offer of a whiskey bottle at the end of his life-affirming speech makes perfect blackly comic sense.
I want to thank Finn for taking the time to dig deeper into something that I had written off as something for Ennis completists. It’s more than that, and I’ll have to keep it in mind when I get around to reading Ennis’ follow-up, now with artist Russ Braun, “Hard Travelin’ Heroz.” For all of “ASS8’s” ridiculousness, though, I do hope that the writer’s beatboxing take on the Phantom Stranger becomes the default take on the character. Much in the same way that Warren Ellis’ “My robot brain needs beer!” interpretation of Machine Man has over at Marvel.
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August 26, 2016
“The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia” has been the biggest-selling project to come out of Dark Horse in recent memory. Two years after its release, it still makes the list of bestselling comic-related books on Diamond’s charts. The problem is that despite all of its success, it’s still a book that originally came from Nintendo, and subsequently licensed and localized by Dark Horse. It’s not like Dark Horse could actually go out and make a sequel themselves. I’m also sure that Nintendo would’ve shrugged off any requests on the company’s part as they were busy dealing with the struggling Wii U and their own precarious place in the games market.
It took some time, but that sequel is on its way. “The Legend of Zelda: Art and Artifacts” is a four-hundred page showcase of artwork for the series. From the pixel-based style of the original to the fully-painted works that have been produced for the upcoming “Breath of the Wild.” Speaking of the latest “Zelda” game, there is said to be plenty of art for that entry and the volume’s arrival in February will be well-timed to catch the wave of hype for the heavily anticipated game as it is (theoretically) expected to arrive with the Nintendo NX around the end of the first quarter of 2017.
This is an easy buy for me because it’s all about something from the series we can all appreciate: the art. As opposed to the eye-rolling contortions displayed in the “Hyrule Historia” to bring all of the previous “Zelda” games into a single, branching timeline.
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August 24, 2016
Digital Manga utilized the crowdfunding platform to bring us a very uneven selection of works from the God of Manga.
August 22, 2016
Vol. 7 wastes no time in picking up where the peasant army left off in their siege of the castle of Schwyz. If you’ve enjoyed mangaka Mitsuhisa Kuji’s depiction of medieval siege weaponry and tactics, then she has a lot more to offer up here. We get to see the peasant army, led by the supremely capable Heinz, fight tooth-and-nail to overcome all of the boiling oil, heavily fortified doorways, and entrenched guards to take the castle. That turns out to be the easy part of their job as Duke Leopold returns with an army and siege weapons of his own. I’ll admit that Kuji is able to mine a great deal of tension from how she keeps us guessing as to whether or not the peasants will be able to hold off their attackers. That alone makes this volume a tense and engaging read.
I wouldn’t say that we’re all the way up to “compelling” yet. My concern that the series would lose its drive after Bailiff Wolfram was killed in the previous volume is pretty much borne out here. All of the action here is good for what it is, but it’s lacking the extra level of excitement which came from knowing that everything being done in the series was bringing us one step closer to the bailiff’s demise. Yes, there is an effort to make Leopold the new big bad here. It doesn’t really work as his antics here make him come off as more of a dick than a genuine villain. I’ll keep reading “Wolfsmund” because Kuji displays some good storytelling chops with the desperate peasant struggle in this volume. However, it still leaves me with the feeling that this title’s best days are behind it.
August 21, 2016
While the overall quality of their licensed comics has tended to be generally quite good over the years, it’s still somewhat rare to see a “name” creator on one of them at Dark Horse. So when it was announced that Greg Rucka would be writing the “Magekiller” miniseries set in BioWare’s “Dragon Age” universe, it was practically a given that I’d get around to picking it up at some point. That it was also advertised as taking place in a heretofore unseen part of the land of Thedas -- the once-mighty Tevinter Imperium -- only added to its desirability. With all this going for it, I’m ultimately a little disappointed that “Magekiller” winds up being only a serviceable addition to the “Dragon Age” canon.
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August 20, 2016
Stop me if this sounds familiar to you: A blowhard businessman decides to run for president and wins the hearts of millions with his straight talk while offending even more with his rhetoric and poor temperament. That’s the setup for “Citizen Jack,” but its protagonist, Jack Northworthy, has one thing in his corner that Trump doesn’t. At least, I don’t think that Trump has a demon egging him on and manipulating those around him. Even if that were true, I don’t think that kind of revelation could make this current race any crazier. That happens to be this title’s biggest problem.
While “Citizen Jack” wants to be an outrageous satire that one-ups reality in an even more outrageous fashion, writer Sam Humphries’ ambitions fall short here. That’s because for all of his supposed “outrageousness” Jack never comes across as more crazy or unhinged than his real-life counterpart. Even when he starts to self-sabotage his campaign and declares a “War on Children” to round them up and put them in camps it still feels like a weak grab for satire. The fact that he has a demon, Marlinspike, backing him also turns out to be a fairly underwhelming plot twist. Granted, the revelation that his relative uselessness is actually somewhat intentional is a halfway clever conceit. That’s about as good as this series gets, however.
“Citizen Jack” does start off with some strong art from Tommy Patterson who invests the early days of Jack’s campaign with an impressive level of detail. He’s not able to keep that up as the issues go on, and by the final issue he’s clearly straining against the deadlines. Humphries also packs the final issue with a ton of plot developments to let you know that he has some definite ideas about where this series will go in its second arc. If they turn out to be worthwhile, you’ll have to let me know. “Citizen Jack” was aiming to be an of-the-moment skewering of our political process. Regrettably, it wound up being skewered by real life instead.
August 19, 2016
For the freshman finals at King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, all of the rats must die. This includes series protagonist Marcus, his goth girlfriend Petra, and former friend turned current ally Billy. Their race to survive all the teen assassins coming for their heads stands as some of the most thrilling storytelling that this series has delivered yet. As you’d expect, the many action scenes are breathless in their pacing and brutal in their outcomes and give you a rush that most comics just can’t offer. It doesn’t lose a step when things calm down. That’s when Rick Remender takes the knife out and starts to twist as Marcus, his friends, and his enemies realize that not only are things not going to plan, they really can’t trust anyone else. I’ve made a point before about how Remender likes to grind down his characters for dramatic effect, yet “Deadly Class” remains the exception to how wearying that approach can be. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, suffers in this black-humored teen drama and that makes it a lot easier to take. None of this would matter, however, without the always-stunning work of artist Wes Craig who is right there with the writer in knowing just how crazy to pitch things on the page.
While reading this volume for the first time, I was absorbed to the point where “one of the best things I’ve read all year” kept reverberating through my mind. Then I got to the last couple of pages…
It’s not that they betray the drama of what has come before or represent an unrealistic outcome to the events of the finals. The problem is that we’ve been down this road before with Remender. The first volume of “Black Science” as a matter of fact. I was all for that particular twist then, until he undid it in the second volume and destroyed a potentially fascinating story thread in the process. It could be that he’s actually going to make good on this particular development in the pages of “Deadly Class.” I’m more inclined to believe that we’ll see the character thought to be killed here with their chest thoroughly bandaged and in some kind of makeshift hospital bed recovering from their injuries in the next volume. Or vol. 6 if Remender really wants to draw things out. The good news is that even if this development does turn out the way I’m expecting it to, there’s still plenty of things going on with the (surviving) members of the cast to keep me riveted to the page. This one development, though, still feels pretty disingenuous next to what the creators accomplished with the rest of vol. 4