In *ahem* researching Joe Kelly’s “Deadpool” run for the podcast, I found that while it had its moments it wasn’t as entertaining as you’d expect from a defining run on a character. I was more entertained by the recent Duggan/Posehn run that managed to mix action, comedy, and drama in a more satisfying fashion. Now the tables have turned. Duggan’s first solo volume of “Deadpool” was bad enough to convince me that the writer had lost his handle on the character and future volumes would likely be even worse. Meanwhile, Kelly -- along with Ed McGuinness, who illustrated a good chunk of that historic run -- is back writing the character that made him famous in a team-up title with Spider-Man. This results in a surprisingly good read with a density that you don’t see often in superhero comics these days. Which is good because the time you’ll spend re-reading this will help ease the wait between new volumes of this title from these creators.
I wrote in my review of the first volume of this series that I hoped the issues I had with it could be worked out over the next few volumes. Well, that’s not going to happen as this second volume is also “Starve’s” last. I do wonder if Brian Wood saw the writing on the wall after finding out the sales of the first five issues and subsequent collection and reworked his plan for this title as a result. If that was the case, then I think he pulled it off pretty well. The first volume of “Starve” was all about renegade chef/terrible husband/deadbeat dad Gavin Cruikshank’s forced return to civilization to burn the cooking show empire he created to the ground. This time out, we get to see Gavin settle things with his wife, help steer his daughter on a less treacherous path to stardom, and turn an inner city chicken shack into a place where anyone can buy a cheap and satisfying dinner.
Vol. 2 of “Starve” thankfully dispenses with the sentimentality and sanctimony that popped up in the first volume. This is a volume that’s all business, and goes about it in some surprising ways at times. We see that right off the bat when Gavin buries the hatchet with his wife and goes off to renovate that chicken shack. That plotline he runs into could’ve been derailed by the “white savior” trope, but it’s defused both by the protagonist’s penchant for self-destruction and refusal to stick around long enough to take proper credit for what he did. While an interesting thread, I’m ultimately left wondering what its relevance was to the story as a whole since the rest of the volume is dedicated to showing us how Gavin and his family extricate themselves from the toxic showbiz environment they’ve found themselves in. There’s plenty of great drama to be had there and some good twists make the story even more enjoyable. It may not have lasted very long, and the art was always better with storytelling than making the food look good (not sure if that’s an appropriate criticism, but it’s still true), “Starve” still managed to be an entertaining read as it tried to rattle the cages of power with fork and knife in hand.
Regardless of the fact that Saitama doesn’t make good on embodying the title of his series for the concluding half of this battle, his fight against Boros is still a marvel of action spectacle. If nothing else, one has to admire the utter balls of ONE and Yusuke Murata to depict the climactic moment of the Saitama vs. Boros fight as a series of TWELVE(!) double-page spreads. They’re followed by a thirteenth two pages later just to drive home how epic Sitama’s battle-ending punch was. American superhero comics may have more depth to their stories and characterizations, but they all pale before “One-Punch Man” in how utterly thrilling its action is to behold on the page.
Once Boros is out of the picture the rebuilding begins in both a physical and storytelling sense. With City A wiped off the map, someone has to take up the job of building it back up. Metal Knight takes up the job, with hints that he and Genos are going to butt heads at some point. Hopefully it’ll go better for him than his (very) brief showdown with Tornado did. I’m also still waiting for someone to smack the taste out of Amai Mask/Handsome Kamen’s mouth after he shows up late to the fight, trolls the other heroes for failing to save the city, and then executes some alien prisoners without a second thought. It’s all great fodder for future storylines and setting them up here helps keep the momentum rolling in the wake of the Boros battle. (Also, the third bonus manga in vol. 7, about a run-in between Saitama and the police, is really kind of perfect in how it shows heroes and police should ultimately act.)
Vol. 8’s main story doesn’t pick up on any of these threads, choosing instead to focus on one of the S-Rank Heroes who didn’t take part in the previous fight. While King is hailed as one of the strongest and most fearsome heroes around, he’s hiding a secret that would bring his career crashing down around him. While some might think that the reasons behind this are a little silly and contrived, I think that the world of “One-Punch Man” is just ridiculous enough to support them. There’s also more setup for a future crisis as the members of the Hero Organization set about recruiting bad guys to help fight it. With all these plot threads to choose from, I hope that vol. 9 picks one and follows through on it. That being said, even if the creators go with a familiar setup like the one vol. 8 leaves off with, I’d be happy with that given their skill with executing familiar superhero stories in a compelling way so far.
If what I’ve read is correct, then the next volume of “Hellboy in Hell” represents the end of his saga. I’ll be finding out the specifics of that once “The Death Card” ships next month. It certainly doesn’t mean the end of his adventures in comics form, however. “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” appears to be specifically designed to deliver some old-school “Hellboy” adventures in the time before the end of his world was set in motion. That’s clearly apparent from the first four stories collected here, “The Phantom Hand,” “Rawhead & Bloody Bones,” “The Witch Tree,” and “The Kelpie.” Even if these are set over four decades before the character’s first adventure in “Seed of Destruction,” they have the same winning mix of action, humor, and horror that has marked the best of his short adventures. It’s also fun to see Hellboy interact with his “dad,” Prof. Bruttenholm, in these stories as well. Best of all may be the art from Ben Stenbeck. He’s someone whose work draws a clear inspiration from Mignola’s. Yet there’s a texture and depth to Stenbeck’s illustrations that sets him apart from Mignola and draws you in as a result.
These stories are followed by two (very) loosely connected ones featuring the debut of Mignola’s new regular co-writer Chris Roberson. “Wandering Souls” is another short that has Hellboy teaming up with B.P.R.D. psychic Agent Xiang to investigate the haunting of a coal mine out in Wyoming. Xiang got a “flash” that she needed to be here for this mission and, without giving too much away, she turns out to be right. It’s a solid, yet familiar story of ghosts, possession, and old remains that’s distinguished mainly by Michael Walsh’s art. He gives the story an appropriately worn-down look to it while also making the monster fighting appropriately impactful.
Then you get to “Beyond the Fences,” where its bright and lively art from Paolo Rivera stands in stark contrast to the kind of work you’re used to seeing in the “Hellboy” canon. It’s still pretty great as Rivera is aces with the dog monster that drives most of the action in the story, including Hellboy’s multiple attempts to bring it under control. The story itself involves the title character and a couple B.P.R.D. members heading out to a suburb in California to investigate a series of missing persons. The art and action are the star here, though Mignola and Roberson bring in some aspects from previous “B.P.R.D.” stories including the Enkaladite from “1948” and my least favorite little Russian vampire girl. It all gives the impression that we’re getting the setup for a longer story in this timeframe involving the B.P.R.D’s Russian counterpart with a possible explanation of how Varvarra wound up in that jar of hers in the present day. I’m all for that, though this volume’s biggest strength is in showing how much mileage there still is in short stories about Hellboy’s adventures.
If it wasn’t clear in “New Avengers,” this volume makes it clear that Al Ewing has stepped up to take the mantle of Marvel’s “Big Ideas” guy after Jonathan Hickman left post-”Secret Wars.” While “Ultimates” may have been the name for the Ultimate Universe’s version of the Avengers (as well as a thoroughly mediocre teen team), their incarnation in the Marvel Universe proper has them being the group who tackles impossible problems. Problems like Galactus. Or, if that wasn’t big enough, trying to make sense of Bendis’ long-running (and apparently abandoned by him) “time is broken” subplot by heading outside the known universe to get the numbers they need to even get a handle on where to start with this problem.
All of the “X-Men” titles I’ve read so far from Marvel’s latest relaunch have done a good job of offering up familiar yet fun takes on the ideas and characters that have populated the franchise over the years. This version of “Uncanny X-Men” is a bit different from its peers in that it’s basically an “X-Force” book in disguise. (Much as I liked it, the swift commercial death-spiral of Si Spurrier’s quirky take on that series has likely forced the “X-Force” name into hibernation for a while.) Don’t believe me? We’ve got a team made up of Magneto, Psylocke, Sabretooth, Monet, and Archangel, with Mystique and Fantomex gallivanting around the fringes to likely join up in the next arc. They’re out to take the fight to those who would attack mutants in their time of trial as they succumb to the M-Pox brought on by the Terrigen Mists. For this first arc, that would be the Dark Riders, Apocalypse’s disciples who view the threat brought on by the mists as a welcome harbinger of their master’s “survival of the fittest” ethos. In order to help mutantkind along on their way to extinction, the Dark Riders have decided to take out all of the known mutant healers. This team of X-Men isn’t about to let that happen, or above finding a more permanent solution to the menace of this threat.
Cullen Bunn likely got this gig off the great work he did with his “Magneto” series, and his grasp of the character is as solid as ever. You can believe that he’d be able to hold together this group of misfits and psychos through sheer force of personality. As for the rest of the cast: Psylocke makes a good foil, Archangel’s inclusion is clearly fodder for a future story, Monet’s here for added snark and strength, and my god I hope they find a way to revert Sabretooth to his natural personality soon. All the “inversion” from the “Axis” event has accomplished with his character is to make him into a toothless Wolverine-lite.
Whether or not these characters look good in this story will likely come down to your feelings on its artist, Greg Land. Only the occasional manic grins from the female characters bother me about his style at this point. I still think he’s better suited to drawing more outlandish sci-fi stuff, and that’s not something we see here. At least Bunn is good with balancing this cast in what is basically a straightforward action story. It’s fine for what it is, but I hope that the threads left hanging at the end of this volume lead somewhere more interesting than the (hopefully) final showdown with some disposable thugs that was served up here.
With this, we’ve finally caught up to Viz’s original release of the series. That arc, “Stardust Crusaders,” showed “Jojo’s” finally hitting its stride and cast a shadow over the deluxe edition releases of the first two parts of this title. “Battle Tendency” has been on an upward trajectory over the course of its four volumes, and with this fourth volume it’s easy to see how mangaka Hirohiko Araki was able to kick things into high gear for what came after. I mean, this is the kind of story where Joseph Joestar has to take down evil vampire Wamuu in a chariot race, but needs to grab the sledgehammer hanging from a pillar in order to have the edge in the fight. He’s able to do that after pulling one of his dirty tricks at the start, but this doesn’t faze the vampire. No, Wamuu just grabs THE PILLAR instead! This isn’t even the craziest thing that happens in their battle. At one point, Wamuu realizes that he was a fool to rely on his sight because he could see, and then… Well, it’s probably best that you read this volume to get the full effect.
Though the battle with Wamuu is great stuff, things get a little shakier in the final showdown between Joseph and Kars with the life of the former’s trainer/secret mother Lisa Lisa on the line. Joseph displays some real cleverness in his tactics as he fights this superior foe, but it all drags on after a while. Particularly when Kars keeps displaying new “final forms” to come back for one more round after our protagonist keeps taking him down. Toss in the fact that Lisa Lisa is both made out to be someone who can handle herself and a victim in need of saving, and having Stroheim and his Nazi buddies show up to help turn the tide and the series is on some very wobbly legs as it manages to stick the landing in spite of itself. Making “Jojo’s” into a generational saga was probably the smartest move Araki made in his development of the series. He was able to move past these issues in one chapter as the volume closes out on Joseph heading off to Japan to kick off “Stardust Crusaders.” I’m honestly tempted to go back and re-read it after all this. I mean, I’ve got to do something until Viz gets around to releasing “Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable” in print.
Right now, “Injection” artist Declan Shalvey is busy doing back-up stories for “All-Star Batman” and a “Nick Fury” serial for the “Civil War: Choosing Sides” miniseries. I mention this because, while they’re raising his profile, they’re keeping the artist from working on the next volume of this series. While Warren Ellis has said that Shalvey will be starting in on the third volume later this year, THIS IS STILL TERRIBLE NEWS! Vol. 1 of “Injection” was good. Vol. 2 shows that its quality wasn’t a fluke. It manages to do this while narrowing the focus to tell a specific story while not neglecting the uber-plot about the adaptive intelligence five scientists unleashed on our world.
Abe’s ongoing series hasn’t been the brightest spot in the Mignolaverse, creatively speaking. Actually, let’s not mince words: For the majority of its run, “Abe Sapien” has embodied some of the worst characteristics you can find in Mike Mignola’s writing. There have been plenty of vaguely cryptic hints about the title character’s role in the end of the world, low-energy stories that can’t generate excitement even when the monster-punching starts, lots of characters speaking in cthonic-sounding tongues, and a desire to treat this story with a seriousness that it doesn’t earn. John Arcudi’s knack for strong characterization and witty, self-deflating dialogue has effectively blunted these tendencies over in “B.P.R.D.” over the years, but “Abe” co-writer Scott Allie has failed to have a similar effect here. Also, the artistic duo of the Fiumara brothers has been decidedly uneven, both can do monsters and supernatural menaces very well, but Max’s humans have a tendency to wind up looking creepier that his creatures. Sebastian’s efforts have been uniformly good throughout the series, though the less said about his efforts to emulate early Mignola in this volume the better.
“The Secret Fire” does at least one thing right: We’re finally told why Abe is so important to the ongoing apocalypse and his role in the next age of man. It’s a relief to have this payoff if nothing else. The problem with it is that Abe, and the reader, find this out through a lengthy explanation as a mother translates for her daughter speaking in those aforementioned cthonic tongues. It effectively amounts to one long scene where we’re told why the character is important to the plot without any appreciable demonstration of it. Granted, it’s implied that Abe’s importance will manifest itself after the end of the world which makes it kind of hard to show off. This is a “Mignolaverse” book, however, and letting something like the ongoing apocalypse get in the way of the story being told shouldn’t be such an obvious dealbreaker.
There has been one consistently good thing about this series: The ongoing quest of Gustav Strobl. He’s been trying to secure the best place for himself in the new world, and he finally figures out how to do that in this volume. What makes his journey so interesting is that in contrast to all other antagonists in the Mignolaverse, and nearly all other bad guys I’ve read about in fiction, it’s pitched overtly towards his self-destruction. Strobl has knowledge, but he wields it in a reckless manner while his arrogance keeps him from noticing all of the literal and metaphorical warnings to turn back and save himself here. This time, it just costs him his nose. It’s obvious that Strobl will wind up being just clever enough to get himself killed in some unspeakably horrible manner and then tortured for the rest of his existence in Hell. That makes me feel just the tiniest bit of sympathy for the man, and a genuine desire to see how it all works out for him in the next (final?) volume.