The Unbelievable Gwenpool vol. 1: Believe It

December 30, 2016

The title to this series (as well as its first volume) is entirely appropriate considering the character’s origins.  Originally an amalgamation of Gwen Stacey and Deadpool who showed up on the variant cover to “Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars” #2, the character image became quite popular with fans.  But how do you turn such a thing into an actual character capable of carrying her own comic stories?  In lesser hands, this might have been an impossible task.  However, in the less sane hands of Christopher Hastings -- the creator of “The Adventures of Doctor McNinja” -- it actually works out surprisingly well.  Hastings hit upon the genius idea of having Gwen Poole be a fangirl from our universe who has found herself in the Marvel Universe.  As a result of her encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe and its conventions, she knows that you’re either a hero in a costume or just an extra.  So she gets herself a superhero outfit and starts learning the ropes of the hero business firsthand.

 

She gets off to an unsteady start, stealing a virus from the Black Cat and selling it to Hydra because she needs the money.  Which is no problem because the Avengers will take care of it, right?  Except they’re in space and now she has to team up with Howard the Duck to get it back. This is only the start of the ridiculousness under Hastings’ watch, and the whole volume is pretty funny and imaginative on balance.  I say that because there are the occasional bits of sentimentality and darkness that pop in from time to time. They’re ostensibly there to remind you that there’s more to this book than comedy, but wind up just disrupting the book’s playful tone.

 

Said tone is best exemplified by the bright, clean art from Gurihiru that really sells the comedy in the series.  It’s also enough to make the otherwise fine art from Danilo Beyruth, who handled the back-up stories, look busy and dull by comparison.  Which are two things this volume is not.  She may have got her start as a tenuous spinoff of “Deadpool,” but “Gwenpool” stands on her own thanks to Hastings’ inspired approach and Gurihiru’s wonderful art.

 

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Comic Picks #227: Star Wars — Darth Vader

December 28, 2016

Gillen and Larroca's epic about Vader's fall and rise is the best "Star Wars" comic to come out of Marvel and a must-read for all franchise fans.

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Princess Jellyfish vol. 3

December 26, 2016

While I’ve enjoyed the previous two volumes of this series, I haven’t been entirely crazy about them.  Though the love triangle at its core between jellyfish otaku Tsukimi, gorgeous cross-dresser Kuranosuke, and his straight-laced brother Shu is competently handled, there’s not a lot much new there.  Even when you consider the crossdressing angle.  Mangaka Akiko Higashimura does have a solid parallel plot as the other female otaku of AMARS come together under Kuranosuke’s guidance to start a dressmaking operation in order to save their residence from being demolished.  Yet this part of the series is also home to its most annoying element:  The other female otaku.

 

If one of Higashimura’s goals with this series was to show that female otaku could be just as annoying and lacking in social graces as their male counterparts, then mission accomplished.  It’s not that the social awkwardness of nerds can’t be mined for good comedy.  The problem here is that things are played up to such a zany extent that the characters start feeling like joke machines rather than actual people.  “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” fangirl Mayaya has been the worst offender for most of the series (and this volume).  The way she proclaims the similarities between that classic tale and her life have been grating for a while now, along with her active incompetence at just about everything else.  Then you have misconceptions that are meant to come off as hilarious, but just make the characters in question look dumb.  Even if doll fanatic Chieko does know an incredibly talented dressmaker, you’d think she’d mention that this person’s skills relate only to dolls rather than actual people.

 

Yet there is hope to be found for these characters in this volume as well.  Mayaya, specifically.  As it turns out, the tall thin otaku is perfectly suited for one role in the girls’ dressmaking operation.  Said role is also one that forces her to confront her insecurities and actually grow a little as a person.  There is some wackiness attached to said growth, except now it actually feels like it’s coming from the character this time.  If Higashimura can actually bring some humanity to the most annoying of these otaku, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of them here.  I’ll keep reading to see if that’s the case.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Marvel Previews Picks: March 2017

December 25, 2016

Forget about what to look forward to from Marvel next year.  Here’s what they should do:  Run their events in serial not parallel order.  Right now we’re in the thrall of “Civil War II,” “The Clone Conspiracy,” and “Inhumans vs. X-Men” each with their own assorted tie-ins throughout their respective lines.  Forget about the usual question regarding how fans are supposed to dig deep enough into their wallets to read all of these.  How is the company expecting to generate enough attention for these events when they’re competing against each other?  That’s likely why we’re seeing diminishing returns for these things, especially in the tie-in issues.  Don’t expect to see this problem sorted out right away as the first few months of 2017 sees another event, “Monsters Unleashed,” kick off as the “Clone Conspiracy” and “IvX” are wrapping up.  Marvel does have another event in the offing, a “classified” one that’s so secret they can’t even release information regarding the trade paperback solicited here.  We’ll only have to wait a few months to not only find out what it is, but if it’ll be the only event in town for its duration.

 

In movie-related news, writer of the original “Civil War” series called the “Captain America” film of the same name bleak and forgettable after its first twenty minutes.  Mind you, this is coming from the man who has sold a lot of comics that trade on cynicism and wrote the one in question which effectively spearheaded the current trend of heroes fighting heroes in comics.  I didn’t need another reason to not keep reading his comics, but I’ll take it anyway.

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Image Previews Picks: March 2017

December 24, 2016

What can we look forward to with Image next year?  Well, I’m still hoping that “World Domination by Way of Comics” is still on their agenda.  They’re consistently putting out the most interesting and diverse set of comics in the western world and there’s only going to be more to look forward to in the coming year.  Which I hope includes some kind of announcement regarding when we can see a collected edition(s) of David Lapham’s latest “Stray Bullets” series “Sunshine and Roses.”  Issue 22 is solicited here and there’s STILL no indication as to whether or not the series will be collected in multiple editions, an “Uber Alles”-esque omnibus edition, or not at all.  If it’s the last one, David, then please let me know because then I will go and start buying the series in single issue form.  Outside of deep discounts on ComiXology, the best way to get me to buy single issues is to NOT collect them at all.

 

In other news, the latest issue of “Saga” has been delayed a whole year due to a printing error that saw the cover for the issue come out very dark.  Where it was originally supposed to come out on December 28, 2016, it will now be arriving on January 3, 2017.  Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

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DC Previews Picks: March 2017

December 23, 2016

What’s there to look forward to from DC in 2017?  Mostly them making good on the plot threads that were set up in the “Rebirth” one-shot from earlier this year.  So if you’ve been waiting for them to explain who Mr. Oz (who is totally not Ozymandias from “Watchmen”) really is or where the “Watchmen” smiley-face button that was found in the Batcave came from, then your prayers will be answered.  Also if you wanted to know what’s up with Ray “The Atom” Palmer subsequent to his disappearance as well.  Having not read “Rebirth,” none of this really appeals to me.  ESPECIALLY the “Watchmen”-related bits.  I’ll take my enjoyment with the “Rebirth”-related collected editions that will start arriving next month.

 

Regarding DC’s current hot-button issue -- the cancellation of “The Legend of Wonder Woman” after inker/letterer/colorist Ray Dillon, husband to the series’ writer/artist Renae De Liz, made disparaging remarks about the company on social media -- there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides.  In Dillon’s case, the simple fact is that you DON’T make any kind of critical remarks about your current employer in any kind of public forum.  Even if you’re not working for the company under an exclusive contract, you’re still part of the team and have to play together as such.  That said, how heartless does a company have to be in order to fire a husband and wife team, where the wife is pregnant, just before Christmas?  Would it have killed DC to delay this action by just a few weeks and done it in the first week of January?  Then again, it’s not like this is the worst thing DC has done to a creator who used to work for them so maybe whoever handled this just figured it was business as usual.

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Dark Horse Previews Picks: March 2017

December 21, 2016

It’s close enough to the end of the year that it’s time for me to come back to my favorite talking point regarding this company:  manga.  After 2015 offered a bright spark of hope with the licensing of “I Am a Hero,” 2016 was back to the doldrums.  Not that Kengo Hanazawa’s zombie manga wasn’t a good read.  It’s just that it didn’t signal the licensing of more titles that weren’t from established/popular creators or part of popular franchises in other media.  Also, while vol. 1 debuted at #2 on the New York Times’ manga bestseller list, it was only on the list for a week and vol. 2 didn’t make the chart at all.  So it would appear unlikely that its sales will convince the publisher to broaden its offerings.  It still likely did better than “Wandering Island,” the only other manga published along similar lines from the company.  While it was clearly published as a heartfelt tribute to former Studio Proteus head Toren Smith (also the man who de-mystified manga licensing in the U.S.), one has to question the wisdom of putting out a title where it’s not even clear when, or even “if,” we’ll see its next volume.

 

Yes, there were other titles published by the company last year.  Most of them fell into the category of anime or other media tie-in, which I skipped because the quality tends to be pretty dire.  (Though I did pick up the latest volume of “The Shinji Ikari Raising Project” as I’m determined to see it through to the end.  And because I hate myself too.)  Looking ahead to 2017, things aren’t looking that much better.  While we’re getting the next two volumes of “Drifters” and hopefully vol. 38 of “Berserk” sometime next year, the only new titles on the horizon are its latest “Evangelion” spin-off (more on that after the break) and the manga adaptation of Lovecraft stories.  Maybe there will be some hopeful announcements by the time Anime Expo rolls around.  Until that happens, consider tie-ins to popular anime and videogames like “Danganronpa” and “Psycho-Pass” and the ever-popular Vocaloid to be the norm for the company going forward.

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Assassination Classroom vol. 13

December 19, 2016

I found the start of the current arc in the previous volume to be pretty underwhelming and it gets even worse here!  It’s awful!  Horrible!  I’ve now lost all faith in this series and the world is now a dark and empty place because…  I’m just kidding about all that, really.  The conclusion to the “Grim Reaper” arc won’t win any points for originality, but it does a satisfying resolution here.  That’s mainly because we get to see Mr. Karasuma in full-on badass mode as he goes toe-to-toe with the Grim Reaper and comes out on top… with some inventive and elaborate help from Koro-sensei and the kids of Class E.  He also dishes out something that is as elusive as it is satisfying to witness:  a well-executed nutshot.  As for Ms. Vitch, her sudden-but-inevitable betrayal is followed up with an equally sudden-but-inevitable redemption as she switches sides just in time to turn the tide and is subsequently welcomed back by the kids and Mr. Karasuma.  On the bright side, subsequent chapters show that she’s no longer dressing with the sole intent of providing fanservice for the reader, so that’s a plus.

 

The second half of this volume is much more interesting as Koro-sensei engages in some career counseling with his students.  While this allows for some amusing vignettes that help to flesh out some of the lesser-developed characters in the series so far, Nagisa winds up being the focus of this arc.  Not only is the issue of his potential as an assassin addressed head-on here, but we also see how he developed those kinds of skills in the first place.  They were necessary for dealing with his mom who is DETERMINED that her son get out of Class E so he can get into a good college (the one she didn’t get into) and get a job a a prestigious trading company (the one that didn’t hire her).  Nagisa’s mom is a frightening character because her borderline-psychotic mood swings are grounded in all-too-familiar fears and insecurities.  While she’s the perfect kind of antagonist for this series, mangaka Yusei Matsui pushes the visual representation of her mood swings a bit too far as they don’t suggest an individual who would be placated by the resolution presented here.  Still, the arc is worthwhile for the additional insight it provides into Nagisa’s character and the next one looks quite promising as Class E faces off again against Class A to have the most profitable booth at the upcoming school festival.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Klaus

December 18, 2016

Grant Morrison has a well-deserved reputation as an ideas man.  So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that he came up with the idea of doing an origin story for Santa Claus that takes the character back to his Germanic and Viking-related origins.  Klaus was a captain in the Grimsvig guard until he was driven out by treachery.  Returning years later as a hunter who is looking to sell his wares, Klaus finds that the town at yuletime is without cheer.  This has happened under the rule of the bitterly scheming Lord Magnus who has also seized all the toys in town for his own ungrateful son.  What’s to be done about this?  Well, Klaus does have his own skill as a toymaker and his skills as a former guardsman turn out to be quite useful for sneaking into the town and running around on its rooftops.  Where things go next are a mix of the obvious and unexpected, actually.

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The Fix vol. 1: Where Beagles Dare

December 18, 2016

...and at the other end of Nick Spencer’s skillset is this new creator-owned crime series with artist Steve Lieber, his partner-in-crime on “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.”  That was one of my favorite Marvel series of recent years and I was really looking forward to seeing what they could do when not working within the constraints of a corporate-owned shared superhero universe.  The results are pretty funny as we follow two corrupt cops, Roy and Mac, who are in for a lot of money to a crime boss whose love of clean living and natural foods is matched only by his psychopathic nature.  In order to make this debt go away, they’ve just got to find a way to smuggle something through the Los Angeles International Airport.  Problem is that puts them up against the most feared customs agent, with six hundred arrests and two tons of contraband seized in the past year, the airport has to offer:  A beagle named Pretzels.

 

Much as it was with “Superior Foes,” a lot of the fun and comedy of this series comes from seeing how its protagonists are just clever enough to avoid getting killed because of their antics, but not smart enough to actually learn anything from their experiences.  We see this right off the bat when Roy and Mac rob a retirement home with complications from a shotgun-wielding resident, and then wind up blowing their winnings betting on underground battlebot competitions.  Their subsequent exploits involve Roy shooting Mac in his hand so that he can get a transfer, Roy framing a too-good-to-be-true officer for murder, and Mac trying to bond with Pretzels despite the fact that the dog instinctively knows his partner is up to no good.  These antics are bound up with some scathingly cynical digressions about the current state of crime, why you should never trust the nicest guy around, and what teen stars are really groomed for.  Thanks to Spencer’s gleefully incisive dialogue and Lieber’s instinctive knowledge for when to go deadpan and when to go cartoonish with the art, it all winds up being an unscrupulously funny experience.

 

Assuming that you’re even in the mood to find the misadventures of a couple of corrupt cops funny in this current day and age.  With all of the police-related shootings that make the headlines these days it’s understandable that some readers will likely be put off by the very concept of the series.  Others might get to the point where Roy waxes nostalgic about how being able to shoot whoever you want (sometimes) was one of the reasons he decided to be a cop and decide that’s crossing a line.  I can also see some of Spencer’s more eccentric bits, such as Roy’s producer friend who is trying to resist the urge to make his own semen part of his diet, turning people off as well.  The majority of this volume is made up of the good stuff I described in the previous paragraph, however, so if you can put aside the things described here then you’re likely to find this quite entertaining.  Or maybe just go read “Superior Foes” if you’re looking for a more tasteful dose of Spencer and Lieber’s storytelling.

 

jason@glickscomicpicks.com