August 17, 2016
The best part about the first two volumes (we’re not counting “Vader Down” here) of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s “Darth Vader” title is how it presents the title character in a diminished state with a struggle before him, and still presents this Dark Lord of the Sith as an uncompromising badass who is not to be trifled with. For “The Shu-Torun War,” Gillen dispenses with the struggle of the previous volumes and gives us a full volume of Vader steamrolling over every threat that crosses his path. Which is particularly impressive given that this war is essentially the result of his own unique brand of diplomacy. Shu-Torun is a mining world that supplies the Empire with many of the rare minerals and ores it needs for all of its projects. In the opening story, Vader heads to the world to meet with its king and deliver a message of compliance regarding the increased quotas. It… doesn’t go well for the king, but the new ruler is unable to properly pacify the rebelling ore barons and so the Emperor sends Vader back to end this war. However, the scale of this operation is so great that the Emperor also sends Doctor Cylo and his proteges (who, lest we forget, are also competing for Vader’s job) along as well.
As Vader demonstrates here, such challenges are nothing before the Dark Side of the Force. I won’t lie: It’s actually pretty satisfying to see Vader in full dominance here. Whether it’s destroying a mining citadel by covering it in molten rock, explaining to Shu-Torun’s queen that the nature of their deal is simply how things will be, or showing us all why Sith lords make for terrible dance partners, Vader is in fantastic form here as he’s portrayed here as less of a man and more of a force of nature. I am implying that there’s less depth to his portrayal here than in previous volumes, but a single volume of the title character showing us why he’s the best there is at what he does still makes for a nice diversion. Gillen also gets some great moments of (dark) comedy relief from the antics of Triple-Zero and BT, and manages to give Shu-Torun’s new queen a nice little character arc as she gets a crash course in the necessary evils of leadership. The volume also looks fantastic as usual thanks to the work of Lenil Yu on the opening story, Salvador Larroca on the regular issues. I will confess that I’m more partial to the former’s work here, as he thrives on tackling big and imaginative setpieces.
Vol. 3 is lacking the nuanced portrayal of the title character that has defined its previous volumes. The good news there is that Gillen lets us know at the very end that we’ll be seeing Vader struggle a little more in the upcoming fourth and final volume of the series. While the power of the Dark Side of the Force can easily win wars, it does tend to struggle a bit when put up against a really clever inspector.
August 15, 2016
It becomes clearer to me with each passing volume that there is nothing more to be done with the concept of sequential art as a medium after this. Yes, all writers can stop writing, artists can stop drawing, and all inkers, assistants, colorists, and letterers can lay down their tools in the face of the godlike phallic monolith of raw un-festering genius that is “Prison School.” Having one of its protagonists crap himself in the middle of class to obtain genuine sounds of gastrointestinal distress was only the tip of the iceberg of the magnificence demonstrated by mangaka Akira Hiramoto. Vol. 4 not only has such sights to behold as burly and buxom Shadow Student Council member Meiko being flustered by an abnormally long nipple hair during an arm-wrestling match, but also the greatest challenge faced by Kiyoshi yet! With the postponement of his and his friends’ expulsion on the line, can this avowed minion of the mammaries explain to the ass-loving Chairman why butts are better than boobs? Such incredible drama is wrought from this most demanding test of his character! Surely we have reached the pinnacle of the medium, standing so high that it causes all other works to weep in despair that their flaccid attempts cannot measure up to the massive girth of achievement demonstrated here.
Or maybe it’s just that “Prison School” is just superior garbage.
Rather than simply write something that appeals to fifteen-year-olds on their own, Hiramoto has managed to create something that does a better job of speaking to people in touch with their inner fifteen-year-old. While Meiko alone covers all the bases (ALL OF THEM!) necessary to attract actual teenagers, the mangaka has consistently found ways to push the envelope of sexual titillation in entertaining ways. Granted, this is only true if female boobs, butts, or… “Medusas” are relevant to your interests. Then you’ve also got the issue of sexual assault and how its determination of “Who’s the victim here?” becomes downright ouroboros-like when Kiyoshi and Hana find themselves alone in the infirmary late in this volume. “Prison School” has never been “for everyone,” but the relentless imagination it displays in its obvious goals of fanservice is second to none in my book.
August 14, 2016
Bond’s film status has seen better days recently, with the relative creative disappointment of “Spectre” and the ongoing drama of whether or not Daniel Craig will return to the role. (If Idris Elba doesn’t want to do it, then the oft-rumored Tom Hiddleston would be a good second choice.) Fortunately, Warren Ellis is on hand, with artist Jason Masters, to deliver a smart and efficient take on the character that fits well into his established style. After a pre-credits opening that has Bond dealing with a killer with means involving a cinderblock to his back, he’s quickly shuffled off onto a new mission involving a designer drug that has hit the streets of England with the nasty side effect of eating people alive. MI6 does have an informant on the matter: Slaven Kurjak, a Serbian bionics inventor who is said to be richer than God. How did he come to know so much about this designer drug? All I can say is that Bond is about to find out the hard way.
If you found “Spectre” to be overblown and formulaic, then “Vargr” may just be the right antidote for that. Ellis’ Bond still has the penchant for witty one-liners, but he’s also a ruthlessly efficient killing machine when the circumstances call for it. He’s also someone with a knack for on-the-spot ingenuity when it comes to getting out of a jam, as we see when he has to bluff his way out of a fistfight and escape fiery decontamination in a lab. The story itself is fine, as its mix of the grounded ethos of the more recent “Bond” films and more fantastic elements of the ones that came before actually meshes pretty well here. It’s all pretty straightforward, though I’m sure anyone familiar with the speeches traditional to “Bond Villains” will get a kick out of how Ellis utilizes that trope here.
Masters is probably the weak link here, though not in a way that ruins the experience. He’s got a no-nonsense style that mixes well with the narrative’s efficiency, and makes the action quite engaging on the page. However, Masters’ work also feels somewhat antiseptic. I don’t know if he used any CG in composing his art, but it has the look of something that was done via computer with little warmth or personality. The reason this isn’t a dealbreaker is because we’re dealing with a Bond where the lack of these things are an acknowledged part of his character. Not a perfect “Bond” experience, but one that comes highly recommended to his fans (and Ellis’ too, for that matter).
August 13, 2016
All good things must come to an end, and this represents the last of writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello’s work on “Conan.” This being comics, that could change in a couple years, but the way Truman thanks everyone he’s worked with on the character over the years in his afterword really makes it feel like this is the last we’ll be seeing of this team here. He also explains the origins behind the tale being told in this volume. Based off of a couple of unfinished fragments from “Conan” creator Robert E. Howard, “Wolves Beyond the Border” is a fine showcase for the Old King Conan character that Truman and Giorello have had narrating their previous tales. Now he’s the actual protagonist of the story that finds him gearing up for one last adventure across the river. After a former comrade-in-arms delivers a magical Pictish helm to Conan, the old king is gripped by visions of its history and the possibility that it could be used to forge a lasting peace with the wild men of the jungle. Also, the woman delivering the visions questions whether or not he’s too old for such an adventure, and if there’s one surefire way to get Old King Conan going that would be it.
So, a legendary character headed out on one last mission after he’s well past his prime. That sure sounds like the kind of story where the protagonist pays for his hubris by dying tragically after failing in his mission. Well… OLD KING CONAN SMACKS YOUR TROPES IN THE HEAD AND GUTS THEM WITH HIS MIGHTY BLADE!!! If you’ve been wanting to see this character go out and kick some evil savage ass, and maybe a magic-user or two in the process, then you’re going to like what Truman and Giorello have to offer here. Truman delivers a vision of the barbarian king whose fire never really went out and is more than ready to take on the challenges of the jungle before him. Giorello obliges the writer by delivering more of the rough-hewn art that perfectly captures the bloody grandeur of Conan’s adventures. Granted, some of the touches that Truman throws in to link “Conan” to two of Howard’s other notable characters do feel a bit fanfiction-y, and the story is a pretty straightforward one where the title character essentially growls his way through every challenge. The creators do work hard to make sure the action and adventure are entertaining enough to overpower these issues, and the end result is bound to satisfy the fans who have followed their adventures on “Conan” over the years.
August 12, 2016
It took them a while, but Marvel has finally gotten around to delivering a miniseries set in the prequel era. A lot of people think that mining the era of the much-derided “Prequel Trilogy” is a bad idea given how it automatically invokes (bad) memories of these films. I disagree. The very best “Star Wars” comics I’ve read were set in this era as John Ostrander gave us the saga of the amnesiac and morally ambiguous Quinlan Vos. “Obi-Wan & Anakin” never hits those heights, yet it isn’t as bad as its source material. It involves the title characters answering a distress call asking for Jedi assistance from Carnelion IV, a remote planet that hasn’t had any significant contact with the Republic for decades. As the Master and Padawan find out, that’s because the planet has been consumed by civil war between two factions known as the Open and the Closed. While Obi-Wan and Anakin are skilled enough to survive landing on the planet and their initial encounter with members of these factions, is it possible for just two Jedi to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved?
This miniseries comes to us from writer Charles Soule, so its middle-of-the-road quality shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his work. Though it’s a solid piece of storytelling that moves at a quick pace, the amount of imagination on display isn’t enough to overcome the familiarity of its plot points and overall narrative arc. Seeing Obi-Wan ask about the color of the lightsaber wielded by the Jedi who previously came to aid this planet was clever, but that’s all you’ll get here. What really makes the book worth reading is the art from Marco Checcetto. He did some solid work on the “Shattered Empire” miniseries last year that was diminished by the fill-in artists needed to make sure the book shipped twice-weekly to arrive before “The Force Awakens.” Here, with the luxury of a monthly schedule, Checcetto shows what he’s really capable of and delivers some really amazing sights from the ruins that show the former majesty of Carnelion IV to the steampunk-versus-mech battle that hits at the volume’s climax. It’s an okay story elevated by some pretty spectacular art, which isn’t the worst fate that a story drawing on the “Prequel Trilogy” could have.
August 11, 2016
I haven't seen the movie yet, because the classic run from John Ostrander (and Kim Yale) satisfies my craving for the squad's adventures.
August 8, 2016
Mikura Amelia is living the dream as she operates a one-plane delivery service that services the many small islands that fall under Tokyo’s jurisdiction. It’s on one such mission that she gets some tragic news: her grandfather, who taught her the ropes as a pilot, has passed away. While going through his things, Mikura finds a mysterious package that’s for her, but with an address for “Electric Island.” Delving deeper, she finds out that this mysterious island was an obsession of her grandfather’s and that he may have wound up there instead of passing away. It isn’t until Mikura has a close encounter with this island herself that it becomes her obsession as well.
I say “obsession,” but what we see here is a relatively benign example of it. That’s because mangaka Kenji Tsuruta is more concerned with delivering a modern-day ocean adventure that’s as warm and inviting as the climate of the islands Mikura services. So even though we see our protagonist neglecting her job, getting dark circles under her eyes due to lack of sleep, and having the power go out at her place as a result of lack of payment, it never feels like her life is spiraling out of control because she’s put together well enough to deal with these things. There’s also the fact that Tsuruta’s art is a marvel in itself with its lovingly intricate depiction of Japanese island life. It’s a style and locale you don’t see often in manga; though, Tsuruta sets a high standard for others to follow. The mangaka’s style is also classy enough to make the many scenes of Mikura walking around in a bikini or (in a few scenes) completely naked feel like tasteful fanservice, instead of the other kind that titles like “Prison School” trade in.
This first volume of “Wandering Island” is an endearingly low-key work that does manage to make its protagonist’s obsession interesting enough to follow. However, I’m already tempering my expectations for the next volume. Not because it’s bound to sell any worse than other Dark Horse manga without a successful media tie-in or from a well-known mangaka. No, “Wandering Island” is in the same camp as Katsuya Terada’s “The Monkey King” as it’s from a creator that’s very busy with his day job of providing illustrations to novels. This volume originally came out in 2011 and vol. 2 has yet to materialize in Japan. While I’d like to be more enthusiastic about Mikura’s quest to find this island, the eventual existence of the next volume of her adventure is likely be just as elusive.
August 7, 2016
The Logan we knew and loved for years is still dead. I imagine he’ll stay that way for a few more years until people really start to miss him (and he’s burned off all that bad karma from killing all of his bastard children towards the end). In the meantime, Marvel doesn’t have just one replacement for him -- they have TWO! One is Laura Kinney, A.K.A. his female clone formerly known as X-23, who has taken up his mantle proper in the pages of “All-New Wolverine.” The other is his grizzled, time-traveling future counterpart from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s “Old Man Logan” series. The new “Old Man Logan” series comes from Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, and I bought it outright on the strength of its creative team. “All-New” comes to us from Tom Taylor and David Lopez, which I picked up after I saw it being significantly discounted on Amazon. If you’re guessing that this is going to be a review about the title I wasn’t planning on buying being the better of the two, then you’d be right.
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August 6, 2016
I know it’s getting old at this point, but there are a lot of Image titles that I follow. To the point where the trade paperbacks I get start to pile up in my review queue after a while. I have things that I want to say about them, but there’s always something newer or shinier that grabs my attention. It’s not the best explanation, I know. Except that I’ve been playing through “Resident Evil: Revelations 2” for the past week and there’s been plenty of shiny stuff in the shadows to distract me there (along with the usual mix of zombie and biological monstrosity murder as well). With that said, I’ve got some thoughts to share on the latest volumes of “East of West,” “Descender,” “Minimum Wage,” “Outcast,” “Saga,” “Luther Strode,” and “Southern Bastards” after the break.
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August 5, 2016
I was originally going to write up “Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin” tonight because I wanted something easy. Then I was distracted by this second collection of Ennis & McCrea’s run on “The Demon.” I figured I’d read a little bit of it and then get down to work. Then I read a little more, and more, and… You should see where this is going now. While the first volume found itself firmly entrenched in the realm of “Best Enjoyed by Ennis Completists,” I’d also recommend this to fans of the character, and people who remember how good titles existing on the fringe of the DCU could be back in the 90’s. I realize that’s a fairly niche audience, but I’m a proud member!
The volume kicks off with its fiftieth issue and “The Shanty of Captain Scumm,” about a beyond-vile pirate and his crew who crosses paths with Jason Blood and his offer of untold riches. It’s a demented tale, perfectly complemented by Ennis’ black humor and McCrea’s wonderously overwrought caricatures. Things only pick up from there with the return of Merlin, Blood learning the horrors of his past, Etrigan’s plot to unleash his child upon Earth, and the return of Hitman for a two-million dollar job. There’s violence, depravity, treachery, and laughs to be had in this storyline which has Ennis fully invested in the characters and their fates. I wasn’t expected to actually be involved in the fates of Blood and Etrigan’s kids, but I was. Even better was seeing the best trick Blood ever pulled on his demonic counterpart.
With the emotional stuff pertaining to the human protagonist in this story out of the way, Ennis and McCrea proceed to really cut loose with their final arc on the series, “The Longest Day.” After Karrien Excalibris, Archangel of War, marshals the forces of Heaven to finally do something about that cesspit known as Hell, it’s up to Etrigan, his friends, and the demonic rabble to stop them. Essentially just a big parody of every war movie and comic Ennis had seen up to that point, the writer still manages to put together an entertaining tale of heroism in hell that offers McCrea plenty of opportunities to show off -- like with the tiger-shark planes. As noted in the introduction, it’s clear that the writer and their artist hit their stride here and delivered an excellent warm-up to their greatness on “Hitman.”