January 16, 2017
It should go without saying that when you’re trying to build up a new villain for your hero to fight, it probably isn’t a good idea to have said hero incidentally take him out with one punch before they have their big showdown. Most series aren’t “One-Punch Man,” however. If there’s one thing linking these two volumes together, it’s the rise of the title’s next big villain Garo. He’s the kind of bad guy who grew up idolizing other bad guys on TV and was frustrated by how they were always thwarted by heroes at the very end. Now he’s out to make his mark on the world by hunting heroes through the Hero Association’s ranks all the way up to Class S. Garo proves to be quite good at that too and his brash, personal approach to this helps set him apart as a villain after the series had previously taken things as far as they can go (power-wise) with the interstellar threat of the last couple volumes.
So what does it mean when he’s taken out by Saitama without a second thought partway through vol. 10? Well, I don’t think it’s going to impede his ongoing hunt through the ranks of the Association. If anything, I’d bet that creators ONE and Yusuke Murata are setting up Garo’s big moment of crisis after he’s started to tear into the Class S heroes. He’ll be basking in triumph after taking out King or one of the other big guns, and then “Bald Cape” from Class B shows up to put him in his place. Just what is that going to do to Garo’s worldview then? I’m interested in finding out, and if the creators wind up heading off in a direction I can’t predict then so much the better.
As for Saitama’s actual presence in these volumes, it mainly consists of the superhero nonchalantly enforcing a general kind of morality about how things in this genre, and real life by extension, should function. Whether it’s explaining to Miss Blizzard why factions in the Hero Association are a bad thing or showing how fashion sense should never take a backseat to skill, his exploits really cut through to what makes superhero fiction so appealing. While “One-Punch Man” has never lacked for spectacle, that kind of simplicity usually winds up being its strongest asset.
January 15, 2017
Now that I’m no longer expecting this series to chart the course for the Marvel Universe going forward, it makes for a more entertaining read. Stark and his longtime friend James “War Machine” Rhodes are hot on the trail of the biohack ninjas who were following Madame Masque in the previous volume, and that has led them to Japan’s underworld. As Stark and Rhodes (and friends) deal with that business, Doctor Doom strikes up a casual friendship with Stark’s new girlfriend Dr. Amara Perera, and the Stark Industries A.I. Friday tries to fend off a hostile takeover of the company with or without the help of Mary Jane Watson. It’s a fun tale of international espionage and superhero action that again finds Bendis on one of his better days. I like his portrayal of Stark as a genius who is also a hot mess who is capable of great things, but needs the help of his closest friends to function. Mike Deodato provides striking art from beginning to end, energizing both the fighting and the conversations. If the story has any problems, it’s that it’s more of an entertaining surface than anything else. Things end with a feeling that not much was accomplished as the series heads into “Civil War II.”
Along with the exit of Stark as the main character of this series, but you likely already knew that by the time you picked up this volume. His successor, Riri Williams, is introduced here building her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room at MIT and using it to stop a few escaped convicts after flying to New Mexico. I’ve got no problems with seeing an African American tech genius take over as Iron Man, but Bendis almost completely whiffs with his introduction of the character. You’d think that in introducing an important character to the “Iron Man” mythos it’d be smart to make them indispensable to the plot. Right? Well, if you took out all of Riri’s scenes here it wouldn’t make any difference to “The War Machines” at all. How hard would it have been for Bendis to insert a scene where Stark goes to judge a science fair at MIT, meet Riri and see her great Iron Man-esque project, and offer some words that either inspire or infuriate her to create her own suit. The answer to that is apparently “too hard” so we’ll have to wait and see if the writer can make a better case for her inclusion in the next volume.
(Oh yeah, and I picked up this volume for $4 digitally from ComiXology while it was on sale. I’ll admit that makes this volume easier to enjoy than if I had paid for a discounted copy of the hardcover on Amazon.)
January 14, 2017
I don’t have much experience with the title character, who is being properly re-introduced to the “Turtles’” current continuity after a mostly off-panel cameo in vol. 13. Save for fighting him as a boss in “TMNT IV: Turtles in Time” on the SNES. Yet I still felt his introduction here left something to be desired. Leo, Mike, Donny, and Raph have returned to Burnow island to help the Fugitoid with bringing the Utroms there out of stasis. Leatherhead makes his appearance early on, stating that he has been hiding out on the island for years after being mutated (in a nice callback to events from the “Turtles in Time” miniseries) and now wants to see what this world has to offer. The problem is that it’s soon implied and revealed that the mutant alligator isn’t being entirely truthful in a way that plays exactly into the reader’s expectations. Leatherhead’s character type is also a very familiar one without much to distinguish it. (Frankly, after playing the game all those years ago I was disappointed to read that this version of the character sounds downright erudite instead of a good ‘ol southern boy.) At least Mateus Santolouco provides some sharply detailed art for this arc. His work on this series over the years has established him as its definitive artist.
Things do pick up considerably for the two-issue story that follows. The action shifts back to New York and Splinter’s ongoing duties with running the Foot Clan. Tensions are running high between him and the clan’s spiritual benefactor, Kitsune, and it isn’t long before she makes her move. This is a nice little action-packed story that moves the ongoing story involving the immortals of this world forward while also giving the good guys a well-earned win. While this looks to be achieved through Splinter’s fighting skills, Leo’s strength of will, and *ahem* “divine intervention” the best bit is saved for the end. It’s always nice to see the good guys being shown to be as clever as the bad guys. Not the best volume in the series, but full of enough good stuff to keep me invested as the story rolls on.
January 13, 2017
The first volume of this series offered up some engaging stories that showed why the magazine “Battle” was so well-regarded in Britain while it was published, and why we get so many war comics from Garth Ennis (who has presented both volumes). If you’ve got an interest in either of those things, then go pick up that first volume if you haven’t already. Vol. 2 is more expensive, has a lower page count, and features a main story which isn’t as strong.
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January 11, 2017
Hickman! Kirkman! Mignola! Matsui! Gillen (x2)! Tsubaki! All of these creators and more can be found on my list.
January 9, 2017
The saga of the boys’ stint in the school’s prison finally comes to an end in this volume. It’s not a spoiler to say that their efforts to find evidence of the Shadow Student Council’s “Expel Boys Operation” is successful. But you’ll have to read the volume itself to find out how clothing switches, impersonations, Gackt running around campus in his underwear, and a USB drive he hid up his ass all factor into it. It’s all very ridiculous, and (as usual) all the funnier for being played completely straight. That’s also true of the mini-arc that follows as the boys adjust to life back on the outside. This turns out to be great for Gackt, who acquires a female friend named Mitsuko with a penchant for unintentional fanservice that is cleverly localized in pegging her as a “Boob Goldberg.” Unfortunately, Joe finds no happiness in his return to normal school life and is soon angling to find ways to return to prison life. Only Andre is clued-in enough to his friend’s despondency to help, and it all comes down to a high-speed exposed-flesh dash down a waxed hall in the end. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the first half of vol. 5 is as gloriously dumb, tasteless, and funny as anything the series has produced so far and a worthy finish to the story it has been telling since vol. 1
Whether or not the arc that follows it will be as successful… Well, I’m skeptical based on what I’ve read so far. As a result of the “EBO,” the three members of the Shadow Student Council are placed in the school’s prison by the actual student council. And boy does its president have an axe to grind with Mari, the leader of the Shadow Council. This latest arc looks to be just like the previous one, only with its antagonists serving the opposite role. The volume also makes an arguably ill-advised trip into sentimentality as it flashes back towards the end to showcase how Mari and the ridiculously busty Meiko met back in elementary school. There are some amusing bits to be found here and there: The reasoning as to why Andre really gets into his role as a prison guard for the girls is clever, as is seeing young Mari’s unadulterated love for her father (before she realized how creepy his fetish was). You’ll be hearing me talk more about this series on Wednesday, but that’ll mainly be in relation to the ingeniously stupid joy that “Prison School” has brought to me this year prior to the back half of this volume.
January 8, 2017
The good news here is that co-writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden followed through on my hope from the previous volume. We see a further thinning of the cast in this penultimate volume of “Baltimore” and a fleshing out of a couple of the existing members. Harish, the Indian soldier, and Kidd, the British smith, both have had encounters with the supernatural that eventually led to their willingness to fight alongside the title character. These supernatural encounters are also appropriately creepy and well in line with what you’d expect from a horror comic with Mignola’s involvement. As for the story itself, after the graves mentioned in this title’s volume are dug and filled with memories, the group heads to Constantinople and splits into two. While one group is tasked with deciphering the findings from the late reporter Hodge, Baltimore leads the other on a quest to track down the mother of the Blood Red Witch.
One of these groups finds a lot more than they bargained for, though both ultimately find the same thing: Exposition! I can abide by the people who are left to interpret what Hodge has left them as that results in payoff at the end of the volume and setup for the climax in the next one. The exposition that Baltimore’s group has to deal with is a bit more unwieldy. It involves the insertion of a new character into the mythos of this story as well as a long and winding reveal regarding the Blood Red Witch’s identity that ties into something set up way back in vol. 2. There is plenty of action, supernatural and otherwise, to keep things from getting too dull and Baltimore himself cuts a more ruthless figure along the way. By the end of the volume everything has been set up for the final showdown between Baltimore and the Red King. Not exactly in the smoothest way, but in one that indicates the coming finale should still be something to see.
January 7, 2017
It’s cute how the text on the back cover of this volume dances around the big twist in this newest volume of Steve Rogers’ adventures as Captain America. We’re told that “The original sentinel of liberty is back!” and is focused on rounding up the villains on the run from Pleasant Hill, taking down the Red Skull who is also the new head of Hydra, while also making his own plans as well. This is cute because unless you’ve been living under a rock since last May you’re already aware that Steve’s reality has been re-written to make it so that he’s been an agent of Hydra all along. Some have been horrified to see that this character who was created to fight the Nazis in WWII is now working for their modern-day equivalent. Now I can’t be sure that these people have never read a superhero comic before, but the rest of us know that this is likely the first part of a longer storyline which will see Steve back on the side of the good guys at its end.
In the meantime, writer Nick Spencer looks to be setting things up for a clever twist on the usual Cap/Red Skull rivalry. While the story has the villain holding all the cards as Hydra’s leader, and therefore being the man that Steve reports to, it doesn’t remain that way for long. Steve has his issues with the Skull’s ruthless methods and that leads him to start mounting his own operation inside Hydra in order to wrest it from its leader. Yes, Cap does do some pretty bad things here, but his essential humanitarian nature is still present. It’s just been twisted in a way that serves Hydra and leads him into conflict with the Skull. After years of stories that have had the Skull constantly one step ahead of the good guys, it’s actually refreshing to have one where a “hero” works to take him down from the inside.
While this is the narrative for most of the volume, things get a bit bogged down in the second half. That’s the “Civil War II” crossover section and I’m going to have to read the event itself to determine how I feel about it. Either Spencer is finding clever ways to explain Cap’s actions in the event that square with this storyline, or there’s a lot of stuff being made up here to make it seem that way. Regardless of how that turns out, I’m still pretty sold on this new direction for the character. Throw in the fact that Spencer hasn’t entirely abandoned his winningly quirky sense of humor and some sharp art from Jesus Saiz and Javier Pina and you’ve got a “superior” Cap story that should play out in entertaining fashion over the next several volumes.
January 7, 2017
Two volumes in and I’m still not as engaged as I feel I should be with this series. Picking up from the ending of vol. 1, time travel is introduced as a major plot point as Erin, Mac, and Tiffany find themselves thrust into the strange future of 2016 where they’re greeted by an adult Erin. There’s a lot of surprise, anxiety, and disappointment to go around as the girls find out about all of the crazy tech that our time has to offer and both Erins have to deal with the complications from coming face-to-face with who they were and who they wound up being. While they’re puzzling out what to do next, sci-fi craziness creeps in around the edges as the Adults look to find ways to sterilize the damage being done to the timeline and a clone of Erin shows up with the offer of sanctuary for the girls. At least, that’s what she says she’s offering.
Surprisingly, the addition of the time-travel angle to “Paper Girls” does help to make its conflicts that much clearer. The Adults are out to make sure that the timeline is preserved at any cost, while the Kids have different ideas about that. Unfortunately, it’s not clear exactly what the Kids’ agenda is beyond the “Adults are monsters” soundbites we get here. The Kids also seem to be doing a lot more damage to the eras they’re in as all of the monsters 2016 has to deal with are a result of Clone Erin’s appearance. This does add up to the title still feeling very puzzle box-y as the answers we get to the questions present in the series are ultimately going to determine whether or not it’ll wind up being a worthwhile ride in the end.
I will admit there are still some interesting bits to be found in vol. 2. Brian K. Vaughan convincingly nails Adult Erin’s anxiety at coming face-to-face with her past self, and even manages to deliver some heartwarming moments in the process. Mac is also hit with a surprising revelation about her future that’s handled quite well, while seeing the girls’ reaction to HD TVs (and the most recent “Ninja Turtles” movie) is good for a laugh. Cliff Chiang also delivers typically excellent work, whether it’s involving the girls just talking to each other, or having giant maggot monsters duke it out in a river. What’s here is basically good enough to hold my interest and keep reading this title, but “Paper Girls” isn’t a series where I’m eagerly anticipating every new volume.
January 4, 2017
The last volume of “Black Science” marked a surprising turnaround. Instead of continuing to show how things got worse for its dimension-hopping travelers, things focused entirely on leader Grant McKay’s character and how he finally realized what he’s been doing wrong and how to make it right again. That trend continues in vol. 5 as it heads straight into farce from the get-go. Grant arrives in the fantasy-based dimension his daughter Pia has been living in for the past few years as their savior and proceeds to immediately ruin the peace she has managed to broker between its warring tribes. Things only get worse (and more darkly comic) from there as Grant gets drunk and makes a fool of himself at a royal dinner and then steals the horse of Pia’s fiancee in an effort to find the powerful artifact of a witch in order to make things right again. Parts of this could read as depressing as this series have ever been, but writer Rick Remender and artist Matteo Scalera pitch the tone in just the right way to make it all more fun than you’d expect. So when the time comes for Grant to make an unexpected sacrifice to make things right, the sense of tragedy involved really hits home instead of feeling like another instance of the characters being ground down for the sake of drama.
As good as the first two-and-a-half issues collected in this volume are, the rest find the series reverting to its old tricks and tone once Grant and Pia make a stop in their home dimension. It’s bad enough that Kadir has set up shop with Grant’s wife, but we soon find out that someone else has been waiting for the scientist’s return along with the Pillar. Things only get worse from there and the volume ends on the kind of depressing note that had me thinking about giving up on the series at one point. However, that was the point where Remender and Scalera managed to turn things around and get me involved in “Black Science” again. So they can clearly recognize when things have become too bleak and a re-adjustment of the tone is in order. That’s what I’d like to see when vol. 5 comes around. I know they’re capable of this, it just remains to be seen if they know that they’ve reached this point again.