October 3, 2016
It isn’t that this series has suddenly become dull in its examination of the ongoing misery of the title character’s life as he transitions into high school. There’s too much disturbing stuff on display for that to happen. Such as when we witness the loss of his virginity in a way that’s almost as uncomfortable for the reader to experience as it is for our protagonist. We also get to see his attempts to fit in at high school by going along with the flow, yet not actually investing himself in it. He gets some acquaintances and even goes out on a real date, but Punpun ultimately fails to develop any meaningful connections with those around him. Which is kind of the point, it seems.
No, the problem here is that the misery is starting to become predictable in its occurrence. Even if you’re not able to guess exactly what’s going to happen to Punpun, you can still rest easy in expecting the worst from pretty much every situation he finds himself in. The adolescent stew of emotions, hormones, and raging insecurity is all too familiar to me. Yet my time in high school still had its high points too. I realize that the parallel narrative involving Punpun’s (former?) friends Masumi and Shimizu is meant to counter this by showing to people who have formed a connection which manages to get them through the worst life has to offer. The problem with that is, well-executed it may be, it manages to just be predictable. Where Punpun’s arc is marinated in despair, Masumi and Shimizu’s bucks it at the exact moment you’d expect it to.
This volume does manage to have the unlikeliest of breakout characters in Punpun’s Mom. It turns out that she’s a lot more disturbed than anyone would’ve given her credit for prior to this volume as we see in a flashback that casts a whole new light on the defining moment of domestic violence from way back in the first chapter. We learn more of her sad history, see her try to break the cycle after connecting with one of Punpun’s old friends in the hospital, and then… Well, remember what I said about expecting the worst? The volume ends with fresh heartbreak with the possibility that things will change as Punpun’s Dad comes back into the picture. I’m interested in seeing how his return will turn out, even as I prepare for it to turn out as awfully as everything else in his life did during this volume.
October 2, 2016
I hope everyone enjoyed Batgirl’s time in Burnside because it ends with this volume. It was a fun detour and while the stories from writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, along with Babs Tarr’s art (along with many other talented artists) didn’t prove to be as revolutionary as their buzz would indicate, they still put a fresh spin on the superhero formula. Take the main arc from this volume that has Barbara Gordon hanging out with friends, fighting bad guys, and slowly worrying that she’s losing her mind in the process. That’s because a sinister villain known as The Fugue has found a way to attack Batgirl’s greatest strength: her memory. His is an incredibly creepy gimmick and the creators do a good job of portraying it in all of its insidiousness. The good news is that it ultimately leads to a proper climax for this run as all of Barbara’s friends team up to help her out and take out all of the bad guys the Fugue has roped into his scheme. Granted, you may wonder why The Fugue didn’t just utterly destroy his nemesis given the power he’s revealed to have had over her. It’s handwaved away via the usual supervillain megalomania (his vengeance is personal, you see), but that would’ve broken the series and the character, and prevented us from having a fist-pumping climax where Batgirl puts one over on him. Formulaic, but still good fun.
The rest of the volume is rounded out by two issues written by Fletcher and illustrated by three different artists, and the “Batgirl: Endgame” one-shot written by Fletcher and Stewart, with art by Bengal. Fletcher’s two-issue arc serves to bring back the leader of Gladius for a rematch against Batgirl and serve as an unofficial crossover with “Gotham Academy.” It’s a fun bit of fluff that doesn’t really add much to what has come before. However, the two-page spread near the end which calls back to the memorable one from the first issue of this particular run serves as a nice reminder of all this series has accomplished and helps to draw a line under things. The “Endgame” one-shot is far less consequential as it just has Batgirl working to save as many people as she can before the Burnside bridge is blown up to halt the spread of the Endgame virus. This may have little relevance to the crossover it ties into, but it still manages to be a pretty great showcase for Bengal’s skills as an artist with its emphasis on action in a silent issue. Overall, “Mindgames” was a solid end to the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run and another welcome reminder of how superior execution can elevate the superhero formula, which the creators will be departing from with “Motor Crush” from Image later this year.
October 1, 2016
For all intents and purposes this is the grand finale to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on “Batman.” Yes, there’s still another volume with their names on it arriving in december, but in addition to collecting their final issue together it’s also called “Epilogue.” Which kind of hits the nail on the head. “Bloom” then represents the end of what was certainly the most popular and arguably the most creatively successful run of the “New 52.” If anyone was expecting Snyder and Capullo to whiff on delivering a satisfying finale, then you’re going to come away disappointed. Even if the ultimate outcome of the story is obvious from before you start reading this volume.
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