Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn vol. 6

January 30, 2017

Why haven’t I talked about this series in a while?  That’s because it really hasn’t risen above the harmless the first volume offered.  I went into this series, based on a concept from Masamune Shirow but with the manga actually by “Excel Saga’s” Rikudou Koshi, fully expecting a trainwreck and didn’t get that.  Instead, “Pandora” has been a light action comedy following the hijinks that full-body prosthetic cyborg Nene and her android compainon Nene get up to on the high-tech island of Centacle.  What makes it interesting to write about now is that things look to be building towards a climax.

 

While the massive mining machine known as Buer was successfully deactivated by Nene and Clarion back in vol. 2, Col. Kurtz (no, really) of the American Empire has been steadily and stealthily working to re-activate it and bring it under his control.  He believes that having such a weapon will allow him to impose the order and control needed to bring stability to the world.  Though Kurtz has the Empire’s massive resources to draw on, including a burly combat android named Fear (because the A.E. isn’t big on subtlety, y’know), they’ll still have to go through Clarion if they want to re-activate Buer.  If they do manage that, then it’s a good thing Nene, without any combat enhancements, is on her way to the action to save her friend.  Right?

 

Even with the raising of stakes, there’s still plenty of goofy lighthearted fun to be had in this volume.  Among other things:  Perpetually doomed reporter Vlind makes nice with some robots, Nene does her best malfunctioning advertising robot impression, and we get some cute videogame homages as she infiltrates cyberspace.  The most impressive parts of this volume, however, are the fight scenes between Clarion and Fear.  Comedy may be Koushi’s calling, but he stages some really impressive action between these two which helps bring the drama as things look to be wrapping up.  While “Pandora” can’t really hold a candle to Koushi and Shirow’s best-known series, it’s still well-executed fluff that anyone who likes cute girls, androids, and cute girl androids would enjoy if they decided to check it out.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Dark Horse Previews Picks: April 2017

January 29, 2017

There’s not really much to say about the company’s business above the board this month.  Unless you’re interested to know that they’ll be publishing an omnibus of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Season Eight” later this year.  So it’s time to come back to my favorite talking point with the company:  manga.  I’m bringing it up once again because “Wave, Listen to Me!”, the latest series from Hiroaki Samura (creator of “Blade of the Immortal”) came out last Tuesday.  It’s about a waitress at a curry shop whose heartbroken drunken rambling at a bar leads to her getting a talk show on a local radio station.  The first volume is an energetic read, best appreciated by those familiar with Samura’s quirky and referential humor.

 

What it isn’t is published by Dark Horse.  Kodansha Comics released this digitally and it’s their second title from Samura after “Die Wergelder” came out back at the end of 2015.  While “Blade of the Immortal,” “Ohikkoshi,” and “Emerald” are likely not leaving Dark Horse, it would appear that Kodansha has secured Samura’s future output for themselves.  I’ve said before that without titles from new artists, all Dark Horse has to rely on going forward are license rescues, media tie-ins, and titles from creators they’ve already published.  With the publication of “Wave,” along with Kosuke Fujishima’s “Paradise Residence” and “Toppu GP,” it would appear that seeing more from that last category is looking increasingly unlikely.

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Marvel Previews Picks: April 2017

January 28, 2017

The main reason we see so many spin-off titles in comics is because they tend to represent the safest bet of all.  If you liked Title X, then it stands to reason you’ll like Title Xa, Xb, and Xc as well.  This kind of approached worked really well during the 90’s (it’s how we wound up with four concurrent “Punisher” for a while) but has fallen out of favor in recent years.  The cold hard truth of the market still hasn’t stopped publishers from trying to find new titles to spin off into their own mini-franchise, however.  “Black Panther” is currently the main beneficiary of this kind of thinking with the first issue of “Black Panther:  The Crew” debuting in these solicitations along with the latest issues of “Black Panther” proper, and “World of Wakanda.”

 

To Marvel’s credit, they managed to get current “Black Panther” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to co-write the spinoff titles, so they can’t be immediately dismissed as superfluous to the main one.  Yet it’s hard not to think that the only reason the latter two titles exist is because Marvel saw the over 300K sales of the first issue of “Black Panther” last year and thought that there was a giant demand for more comics about the character and his world.  What it likely represented was a certain amount of pent-up fan demand after T’Challa had been without a solo title for several years, and anticipation surrounding his cinematic debut in “Captain America:  Civil War.”  Currently, “World of Wakanda” is outselling “Black Panther” as the latter title closes in on monthly sales that are a tenth of its debut issue.  It’s all but certain the spin-off will sink below its parent title in a few months, which makes the idea of launching a second spin-off a really dubious idea at this point.

 

Coates has discussed his long-term plans for “Black Panther,” so I’m sure that will continue for a while.  I’d like to be wrong, but I have a feeling that “World of Wakanda” and “The Crew’s” lasting contributions to the “Black Panther” mythos will mainly be in providing evidence for a time when he had three ongoing titles at once.  If you think I should be wrong, then pick up a copy of all three titles when “The Crew” debuts in April.

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DC Previews Picks: April 2017

January 27, 2017

DC is making good on their promise to deliver more “Watchmen”-related stories in the DCU with these solicitations.  A four-part crossover between “Batman” and “The Flash” called “The Button” has the “World’s Greatest Detective” and the “Fastest Man Alive” teaming up to find out the mystery of the iconic bloodstained smiley-face button and how it found its way into the Batcave.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that DC is being very tight-lipped over the details of this story, though the button is said to attract the interest of an unwelcome third party, “and it’s not who anyone suspects!”  I was more interested to see that DC used the same solicitation text for all four issues of this crossover.  Usually, in these kind of events, there will be some kind of vague hinting at what happens in subsequent issues, but not here.  So if you’ve been anticipating (or like me, dreading) the further integration of “Watchmen” into the DCU, then your wait will be over come April.  Best of luck to writers Tom King and Joshua Williamson in making this story work -- they’re going to need it!

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Comic Picks #229: Tom King

January 25, 2017

By most people's standards, he's the next big thing in comic book writing.  Not mine, however.

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Brief thoughts on a couple of manga about sucking.

January 23, 2017

Two volumes in and I’m still involved in following the ongoing disintegration of Makoto Okazaki’s life as he adapts to the changes that his newfound vampirism have wrought in “Happiness.”  Some of these are good, as Okazaki now has a girl friend and is currently best buds with his former bully after saving that guy from his own tormentors.  This is in spite of the fact that he has yet to give into his craving for blood, which kind of stretches credibility in a story about vampirism.  It’s clear that mangaka Shuzo Oshimi is going for a slow burn as to how these changes affect her protagonist, but I’m left wishing she’d hurry things up at this point.  She does do a good job of selling the ordinariness of Okazaki’s life, which makes it all the more interesting to see the brutal violence that forces its way into it when some older bullies and a new vampire make their presence known.  That said, the thing that got me the most about this volume was Oshimi’s artistic experimentation as she demonstrates a surprising amount of creativity in

her style and layouts as she dramatizes the severity of Okazaki’s cravings on the page.  Which is all well and good, though it makes his resistance to sucking blood that much harder to believe.

 

For a more figurative take on the concept of sucking, we go now to the latest dispatch from the life of Punpun Onodera in “Goodnight Punpun.”  In my review of the last volume, I expressed disappointment with how easy it was becoming to expect the worst from the character’s life in any given situation.  Mangaka Inio Asano decides to abandon that race to the bottom as Punpun moves out of his married uncle’s apartment and pursues menial part-time work.  It’s a mundane, boring life where he doesn’t hurt or get hurt by anyone.  That changes when he meets up with Sachi a tutor and artist who eventually draws him out of his shell and into a romantic relationship with her drive to capture his creativity and create a manga.  While this is a good thing for the character, the tone of the story doesn’t give off the feeling that everything will be sunshine and roses from here on out.  Particularly since Aiko, the love of Punpun’s life, is still lurking around the edges of the story.  What’s here is still a nice diversion as Asano shows that this series doesn’t have to be relentlessly depressing to be interesting.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol. 3 — Civil War II

January 22, 2017

Didn’t I review the previous volume around a month ago?  Well, here’s the next one which follows up on the fallout from “Standoff” while also tying into the events of “Civil War II.”  With regards to the former issue, now that Steve Rogers has been de-aged the question becomes whether or not he’ll take back the shield and his former title?  Then, as “Civil War II” picks up steam, Sam finds himself delivering the eulogy to the fallen James Rhodes and forced to choose a side between the opposing views of Captain Marvel and Iron Man.  If that wasn’t enough, he also finds himself drawn into the conflict between the new private police force known as the Americops and the former Avenger Rage.  Oh, and the conservative backers of the Americops have also called in James “USAgent” Walker to convince Sam to give back the shield with his fists.  Because that would be best for America.

 

If you are looking for escapist superhero reading, then this volume of “Sam Wilson” is not for you.  This isn’t the first time that writer Nick Spencer has thrust the character into some hot-button issues, but this is the first time where their relevance is keenly felt.  While the Americops are clearly made out to be the bad guys here, they’re still authorized law-enforcement officials, so Rage’s plan to fight them head-on is only going to make things worse.  So it’s up to Sam to find a way to thread the needle in this situation and take on USAgent when he rears his head.  This makes for a compelling read, and the event-tie in stuff is also handled pretty well too, that does fizzle out a bit at the end as Sam’s plan for dealing with this issue is told to the reader rather than shown.  We still get some solid art from Angel Unzueta, beautiful art from Daniel Acuna (nice to see that he wasn’t rushed here) and some delicious moments of treachery from Steve Rogers.  Steve’s actions here will only come off as contradictory if you haven’t been reading his solo title, and aren’t aware of his current status as a Hydra agent.  If you have, then it’s a great use of dramatic irony as the character plays both ends against the middle, fanning the flames of conflict between Sam and his antagonists.  Maybe it isn’t the most upbeat read, but “Sam Wilson” does an excellent job of tapping into the zeitgeist now.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Renato Jones: The One % — Season One

January 21, 2017

Am I in the mood for a new Image series from writer/artist Kaare Andrews about a vigilante who goes around murdering the most decadent and depraved of the upper class?  You better believe it!  In this post-Great Recession era (which is also the dawn of the Trump administration), I didn’t have to work hard to get myself in the mood for some violently stylized wish fulfillment against the people with all the money and power.  For the first two issues, I got what I wanted.  We get Renato’s “secret origin” and find out just why he’s bent on taking out the worst of the one percent even though he’s part of their circle as well.  It starts with a bro-tastically sleazy hedge-fund manager with some very unsavory hobbies, and continues to a Trump stand-in real-estate mogul who is attending a party where every appetite is indulged.  Andrews is a very talented visual stylist who does some very eye-catching work here, sometimes at the expense of coherence on the page.  Yet while the violence is frequently (and sometimes literally) eye-popping, the best moment in the volume has a one-percenter committing suicide when given an ultimatum to go live a normal life and work a nine-to-five or else.  It’s as credible a moment as it is cathartic.

 

Starting with issue three, however, the action slows down and the manic energy of those first two issues starts to dissipate.  Andrews starts to focus more on Jones’ history and character, that of his childhood trust-fund friend Bliss, and introducing the douchebaggiest of Batman analogues Wicked-Awesome.  While the creator’s attempts to add depth to his characters and their world would normally be appreciated in another more sane series, it winds up sapping the wish-fulfillment joy of this one.  Plus, by the end of the volume the title character hasn’t emerged as someone who is interesting to read about beyond the outrageousness of his quest.  There are still some impressive visuals to behold from Andrews, but I’m left wishing that he had gone all-in on style over substance for this vengeance-fueled class warfare fantasy.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Black Panther vol. 2: A Nation Under Our Feet — Book 2

January 20, 2017

Two volumes in and it’s becoming even more clear that the overall quality of this storyline is going to depend on how well writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sticks the landing in the next volume.  This second volume does suffer a bit as it’s the middle of the story and nothing is beginning or ending here.  Things continue on after the terrorist attack at the Birnin Zana city square that left many people dead and T’Challa’s mother in critical condition.  T’Challa starts enlisting outside help on how to deal with the terror problem in his country while Tetu, Zenzi, and Ezekiel Stane continue their efforts to foment rebellion in Wakanda.  Meanwhile, T’Challa’s sister Shuri continues her journey through the Djalla, the plane of Wakanda’s collective memory.

 

While he hasn’t completely turned the tables, the book’s best moments come when we get to see how clever T’Challa can be when taking on the bad guys.  It was cool to see him outmaneuver Stane at one point and deduce just what has happened to Shuri after she was placed in suspension.  The guest appearance by the members of The Crew also lent the book some much needed superhero energy.

 

I say that this energy was “much needed” because it’s also clear that Coates is still finding his footing as a comic book writer.  He’s best-known for his essay writing and reading through the copious amounts of dialogue and text captions on each page makes you feel like he’s trying to do the same in comic form.  It doesn’t really work and the series’ pace has suffered for it.  Weirdly, the numerous Wakandan folk tales he creates here feel rushed, and half-finished.  Even though this volume has a new artist in Chris Sprouse, his slick and angular style is still great to look at and maintains some artistic consistency with Brian Stelfreeze.  I’ve heard that Coates has plans for a second and possibly third year of “Black Panther,” but it seems that I’ll  have to wait until vol. 3 comes out before I can see about getting excited for that news.

 

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

Batman vol. 10: Epilogue

January 18, 2017

You know what they say about all good things, right?  Technically, the finale to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on “Batman” was the conclusion to the “Superheavy” arc in vol. 9.  This one just collects their final issue together, some assorted odds and ends relating to the “New 52” era of the title, and the “Batman:  Rebirth” issue which serves as the transition to Tom King’s run.  So if you’re thinking that “Epilogue” is a major cash-grab on DC’s part towards everyone who wants the entirety of the Snyder/Capullo run collected on their bookshelf, I really couldn’t blame you.  At least while the creators’ final issue is quite spectacular, the rest of the stories here are also (mostly) decent enough as well.

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