What would it take for me to drop this series? At this point it would have to be some truly offensive storytelling or for it to become truly boring. We get neither in this volume as mangaka Gamon Sakurai simply has the opposing factions here continue their battle inside a massive office building. There are some impressive scenes of gunplay strewn throughout the volume, but we don’t get the same level of bravura action seen in previous volumes. Instead, we get to see Kei and Sato show off some different uses of their powers. I was going to say “creative” but only Sato’s qualifies as Kei’s basically amounts to a demi-human-specific smokescreen. Sato’s are also creatively gruesome, as it’s not everyday you see a man feed himself into a wood chipper. How effective the reader finds this demonstration to be will require them to overlook some ropey plotting, however. I’m not saying that it’d be impossible for people to fail to tell the difference between fried chicken and a deep-fried human hand. It’s just that you’d have to assume the people doing the inspecting at all levels were idiots.
Admittedly, that helps when Sato finds his way into the building and starts murdering pretty much everyone in his way. In my review of vol. 7, I wrote about how the events of that volume effectively stripped away the appealing moral ambiguity surrounding his actions and revealed him to be nothing more than a thrill killer. Nothing in this volume changes that, except I’m reminded that I’m not really inclined to root for the people opposing him. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing him take out the corporate suits who are exploiting the demi-humans for their own ends. Kei remains an unlikeable little jerk while his fellow demi-human, Ko, appears to only be useful as someone who our protagonist can spout exposition at for the reader in this volume. So if Sato does manage to kill off any of these people I’m really not going to be too bothered by it. Now that I think about it, I guess I can actually start to root for his success in this regard. Maybe the characters he kills will be replaced by more interesting ones later on. Then again, if Sato gets killed off himself I guess I’ll have my reason to finally stop reading this series.
We all knew it wouldn’t last, but I think we were at least hoping it would last longer than this. What am I talking about? Well, word is that a certain Ol’ Canucklehead will be making his way back to the land of the living early next year. Just in time for his latest movie, in fact. There’s no specific evidence to this theory as of yet. It’s all rumor and hearsay based on how Marvel likes to time things like these to big events -- remember how Peter Parker finally took back his body from Doctor Octopus right around the time “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” came out? Also, there’s also a number of “Wolverine”-related issues being solicited for a dollar and word that the final issue of “Old Man Logan” may be in the offing as well. Maybe his return will tie into the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” series as well. But why would Marvel do that when they can probably get bigger numbers publishing a “Return of Wolverine” miniseries instead?
Still, this is all just speculation at this point. I’m hoping it all turns out to be wrong and Logan stays in the ground for at least another year. That would help to further entrench Laura Kinney in the role and maybe give Jeff Lemire time to wrap up the story he’s telling with “Old Man Logan.” Plus, there’s the fact that he just hasn’t been gone all that long. There’s no doubt that the Wolverine we all know and love will be back at some point. It just doesn’t seem like March 2017 is the right time for that to happen.
It’s Image Comics’ 25th Anniversary next year and Robert Kirkman is all ready to celebrate. By that I mean the latest issues of the three titles he writes, “The Walking Dead,” “Invincible,” and “Outcast,” will be priced at twenty-five cents each. In addition to being a cute way to celebrate the occasion, it’s also a canny marketing move. All three titles are kicking off new arcs with the issues being solicited here (and in the case of “Invincible,” its final arc) so this is a very good way to hook as many readers as possible for the immediate future. Kirkman also gets bragging rights as the first of the Image partners to do something to mark the founding of the company. Which is amusing in a certain way because he’s the only partner who isn’t also a founding member. It’s probably also worth noting that of the original Image founders, only Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen are still putting out comics regularly for the company.
Also, in Jonathan Hickman-related news, issue #4 of his sci-fi series “Frontier” was featured in these solicitations but don’t expect to read it next February. Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with how issue #1 was turning out and revising it meant that he would have to delay the subsequent issues. Rather than wreck the scheduling of the series, he’s opting to delay the title indefinitely until he can get everything just right. Which is a good thing and shows that he’s learned something from the mess that he and Ryan Bodenheim found themselves in with “The Dead and the Dying.”
One of the key components from DC’s “Rebirth” initiative has seen them publish fewer individual titles, but double-ship their biggest ones. This is because it’s a far safer commercial bet to publish two issues of “Batman” or “Justice League” than to take a risk on a lesser-known or all-new property. To be fair, DC is still taking risks like that with the likes of “New Super Man” and Gerard Way’s “Young Animal” imprint. There are a few other advantages, for the publisher and for the reader (me) to this approach. For the publisher they’re likely thinking that this approach helps with reader engagement. After all, a reader will be less likely to drop a series when they’ve read six issues over three months than three issues over the same period of time because they’re invested in the title. Sales in the coming months will likely reveal if this approach is successful. As for me, more issues of a particular title each month means a shorter wait for new volumes of a series. This is especially great news since it appears DC is eschewing the hardcover first mentality for most of the “Rebirth” series.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, the double-shipping approach has worked so well for DC that they’re going to continue it through next year. I’m all for this approach, even if it means I’ll have to be a bit more discerning when it comes to what series I follow. My wallet isn’t bottomless after all.
It’s official: The anime adaptation of Kohta Hirano’s “Drifters” manga is a hit according to Crunchyroll. It’s the most streamed anime on the site in twenty states, which is a good thing for the manga as well. While the series is currently up to vol. 5 in Japan, we haven’t seen a new volume since the third one was published out here by Dark Horse in April 2014. Fortunately, the publisher has seen fit to confirm that the two most recent volumes of “Drifters” will be published sometime after April in 2017 (as they’re not mentioned in these solicitations). I’ll be picking them up as soon as they’re published because I was entertained by the action and worldbuilding Hirano was demonstrating in this series.
While seeing any Dark Horse manga series come off of hiatus is a good thing, there’s still cause for concern here. I’m a little disappointed that the company didn’t seize the initiative and get vols. 4 & 5 out while the anime is being streamed. This is the time when the series has peak awareness and it appears foolish of them to not take advantage of that. Particularly when it was the anime of Hirano’s previous series, “Hellsing,” that drove sales of the manga for the company. Also, Dark Horse’s announcement that the subsequent volumes of “Drifters” will be coming out in the wake of the anime’s success further underscores their apparent inability to sell a manga without a successful anime or other media (see also, “Vocaloid”) tie-in. I might as well just give up waiting for them to finish “Eden” until it gets an anime at this rate…
Luiza Bora has only one real desire in life: To be part of the police. Unfortunately her personality type is a 57B -- someone with an emotionally subnormal response to violence and no aversion to killing. So she’s out of luck working for law enforcement on Earth. Not on Mercury, however. In the far-future world of “Mercury Heat,” the planet closest to the sun is basically a sci-fi version of the Old West. Which is perfect for someone with Luiza’s personality. That becomes even more clear when an attempt on her life is made while she’s investigating the death of a technician who may have been murdered. Things aren’t all right on Mercury, and Luiza is prepared to crack as many skulls as necessary in order to get to the bottom of it.
Why did I pick this up? Because it’s a new series from Kieron Gillen. He’s still batting a thousand in my book, but I don’t see “Mercury Heat” as something to be embraced by the fans of his witty, fun-loving, and occasionally heartbreaking work on titles like “Phonogram,” “The Wicked + The Divine,” and “Young Avengers.” This is a straight-up action/sci-fi story about a woman who doesn’t fit into everyday life and is still determined to make the most of it on her terms. Luiza is a compelling protagonist because of this tension, and the fact that we see her to be quite resourceful and capable of handling everything that comes her way. It’d be nice if any of the other characters she encounters in this volume were as interesting as her, so that’s something Gillen can work on for vol. 2.
Omar Francia is the artist for the first half of this volume and the one responsible for most of the design work for this world, as revealed in the supplemental material in this volume. He’s good at giving this series a distinctive look with a lot of detail, but his characters are stiff and the flow of storytelling in the action sequences tends to get jumbled. Nahuel Lopez has a somewhat brighter, less-busy style to show off in the volume’s second half, though his work also suffers from the same issues. Lopez will be onboard for the next arc -- which has Luiza taking on the Crossed, of all things -- so I’ll be hoping for some improvement in the art. As it is, “Mercury Heat” will probably be best appreciated by established fans of Gillen’s work who have an interest in seeing the writer try new things.
After Vertical showed that there was a significant audience for “Gundam” manga with the consistently entertaining “The Origin” series, it was inevitable that we’d get more manga based off of this venerable mecha franchise released out here. Unfortunately, the first volume of “Thunderbolt” is a disappointingly generic entry that lacks any kind of distinctive storytelling or visual style to make it stand out. The story takes place shortly before the battle of A Baoa Qu during the One-Year War as a Federation fleet works to clear out the Thunderbolt sector. Not only is this sector key to Zeon’s supply lines, it’s filled with the debris from the Side 4 Moore Colony. Most of the members of this fleet, including hotshot pilot Io Fleming, were from Moore so this operation is personal for them. Standing in their way are the members of the Living Dead Division, a group of snipers made up of Zeon soldiers who have all lost a limb or two in combat and their ace Daryl Lorenz.
The duel of aces looks to be the driving force behind the narrative for “Thunderbolt,” and a relatively weak one at that. Io comes off as nothing more than your standard-issue cocky mech pilot with his love of jazz serving as the man’s only distinguishing feature. Also, the less said about the quasi-romance he has with his petulant crybaby captain the better. Daryl is a bit more interesting thanks to his disability, to the point where I wish more had been done with it and his squad in general. There are nods to depth on both sides of the conflict here, as the members of the Federation are shown to have scheming sides to them while the Zeon forces are given a measure of humanity and even a bit of self-awareness about the side they’re fighting for in this conflict. I’d expect nothing less from “Gundam” and mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki also obliges with some decent action scenes as Io shows what he’s capable of with and without a Gundam. Still, the mangaka’s style is serviceable to the point of genericness much like everything else here. Things may very well improve in subsequent volumes, but the only way I can recommend “Thunderbolt” now is that buying it may give Viz or Vertical the idea to release more (and better) “Gundam” manga in the future.
Marvel has been trying to put out a successful “Black Widow” ongoing series for years now. I’ve been immune to their efforts because, prior to this, they had yet to give this series to creators I liked. So when it was announced that the “Daredevil” team of writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee were going to chronicle this latest round of Natasha Romanov’s solo adventures, there was no question that I was going to pick it up. As expected, I was onboard with their approach from the very first page which has the title character running through a S.H.I.E.L.D. office while being declared an enemy of the organization. Things only get more intense as her one-woman escape effort succeeds and we find out exactly why she’s now wanted by one of the most powerful organizations in the Marvel Universe. Natasha is being blackmailed by a crime boss known as the Weeping Lion who wants her to find out some information on a new Russian program designed to create more assassins just like her.
For most of its length, “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted” is a propulsive action story that takes the Black Widow on a worldwide tour of treachery and betrayal. Samnee, in particular, turns in some utterly thrilling work with the action scenes in this volume. Whether she’s escaping from an in-flight S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier or silently taking out assassins stalking a secret graveyard, seeing Natasha at work is tense and exciting. As good as the action is, even I’ll admit that I had my fill by the end of the volume. Much as I like getting six issues in a collection, Waid and Samnee probably could’ve trimmed this story down to five and not lost all that much. The main story in the volume is also a little light with the Weeping Lion himself coming off as a fairly generic villain even with the final-act twist. While the flashbacks to Natasha’s childhood training are interesting, it’s centered around plot points that will undoubtedly come back into play in a subsequent volume. Which I’ll be picking up. Even with these issues, Waid and Samnee have delivered a “Black Widow” ongoing that I’m actually interested in following.
I didn’t know that I needed to see Laura “Wolverine” Kinney team up with Squirrel Girl. Or, to take on one of Marvel’s more noteworthy giant monsters. That’s what makes the first half of this latest volume a ton of fun. To start things off, it turns out that Wolverine’s plan to ditch her pursuers at one point in the last volume by attaching the tracker they were following to a squirrel was not without repercussions. She finds this out when Squirrel Girl shows up at her apartment to let her know that the squirrel had a family who would love to see him back. Yes, it’s a silly premise and all the more effective in how writer Tom Taylor has Laura play it completely straight. As well as how it eventually ties into officially making Laura’s young clone ward Gabby a part of the cast. This is followed up by an even more ridiculous and action-packed story that has Wolverine being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to find out what the substance in a mysterious box is and how it’s connected to the disappearance of Old Man Logan. A helicarrier, a giant monster, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, digestive juices, pheromones, and jetpacks all play significant roles in this story. Maybe this isn’t what you’re expecting from a “Wolverine” story, but that’s a good thing in this case.
The second half of this volume, the “Civil War II” tie-in arc, is a bit more typical in that regard. Ulysses -- the precognitive Inhuman whose abilities are at the heart of the crossover -- gets a vision which implies that Old Man Logan is going to kill Gabby. So S.H.I.E.L.D. sends Captain America and a bunch of agents over to make sure that doesn’t happen. While the story falls into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy, Taylor does some decent work with the fallout to move the narrative away from that cliche. It’s also just a little bit tragic as it was fun seeing Old Man Logan interact with Laura and Gabby in the first half of this arc, and we’re likely not going to get any more scenes like that given how this story ends. Ig Guara’s art for this arc is decent enough, though it feels overly busy and detailed in ways that don’t add much to the story. Comparatively, Marcio Takara’s art on the first half of the volume is clean and straightforward, though I still miss David Lopez’s confident work from the first volume. Overall, it’s very entertaining work which has me looking forward to Taylor’s take on “Enemy of the State” in the next volume.