March 15, 2017
I didn’t have the best impression of the first volume of Matt Kindt’s previous creator-owned series at Dark Horse, “Mind MGMT,” but I eventually grew to appreciate what it was offering in subsequent volumes. The creator’s latest series at the publisher may have a punny title, but everything about it is played straight in this murder mystery set seven miles below the surface of the ocean. It involves Mia, the daughter of the brilliant scientist who ran Dept. H and who was also found dead under mysterious circumstances recently. She’s asked by the head of the government organization who runs Dept. H to investigate it as foul play was suspected in her father’s death. Mia’s relationship to her late father could best be described as “strained,” a description which could also be applied to the mix of family members, and former friends and colleagues she encounters at the deep-sea research station. Seeing as how one of them is likely the murderer here there’s probably not going to be any love lost between parties when the truth comes out.
“Mind MGMT’s” real appeal was with how Kindt relentlessly experimented with the comics form throughout the series. There were hidden messages on the side of each page, innovative layouts were used to capture the emotion of a scene, along with interesting mixes of text and comics panels. While this experimentation made for a consistently engaging reading experience, it also camouflaged the fact that the story Kindt was telling was far more straightforward than it appeared to be. That’s the case from the start in “Dept. H” as things play out in a fairly predictable manner with a cast that feels underdeveloped so far, the research lab being sabotaged, and a host of creepy undersea creatures.
Reading this series also made me realize that Kindt needs to work on his dialogue skills. This wasn’t a problem in “Mind MGMT” because the straightforward and occasionally on-the-nose dialogue of its characters complemented the strange tone he was going for in that series. Here, in a more grounded series, the words coming out of the characters’ mouths feel functional and frequently bland. I realize that I’m comparing “Dept. H” to Kindt’s previous series a lot here, which is probably a little unfair since it’s a very different kind of work. Still, I kind of feel obligated to come back and check out vol. 2 when it’s released to see if history repeats and a more favorable impression is made. Something which is against my better judgement at this point.
March 13, 2017
If you’ll recall, I wasn’t all that impressed with the first volume of this new “Gundam” series. It delivered all the familiar “War is Hell” moral musings you’d expect as seen through the Federation and Zeon’s struggle to take control of the strategically important Thunderbolt sector without doing much to distinguish itself. Some steps are made to correct that in this second volume as the fighting as the fighting gets more intense now that Federation ace Io Fleming’s Gundam is up and running. While this gives the Feds some much needed momentum in this conflict it isn’t long before Zeon and the members of the Living Dead squadron are forced to pull out their ace in the hole: The Psycho Zaku.
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March 12, 2017
So this is it? After five volumes of Abe’s ongoing series that, while it certainly had its moments, was mostly a dull slog more than anything else this is the ending we get!? While the series certainly has significant relevance to the Mignolaverse, it’s easily the runt of the litter quality-wise when compared to the likes of “Hellboy,” “B.P.R.D.,” and most of the spin-off miniseries. Mignola certainly deserves some of the blame for this, though I’d say that the lion’s share of it can be laid at the feet of series co-writer Scott Allie.
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March 11, 2017
The quality of “Aliens” comics over the years from Dark Horse has fluctuated wildly. While the initial miniseries from writer Mark Verheiden and artist Mike Nelson still holds up well today, a quick read through any of the Omnibus volumes will reveal some pretty misguided endeavors as well. “Defiance” is not only the first ongoing series from Dark Horse set in this universe, but the first “Aliens” comic I’ve bought from them in a good long while. I decided to pick it up because writer Brian Wood has a pretty good track record for his work on licensed titles at the company. The good news is that continues to be true here as we follow Zula Hendricks, an injured private in the Colonial Marines, and Davis, a synthetic who has been engineered for combat, as they try to prevent the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from getting their hands on xenomorphs they can use for their weapons division.
Okay. I’ll admit that the core plot for this series doesn’t sound all that inspiring when it’s summed up like that. After all, isn’t Weyland-Yutani the main antagonist in just about EVERY major “Aliens” story? At least the ones that don’t involve Predators? What makes “Defiance” worth reading so far is the strong work Wood puts into characterizing Hendricks as a wounded warrior trying to do the right thing. The soldier’s recovery from a combat injury to her spine is integral to the narrative as it informs all of her actions while presenting a more intimate threat than the xenomorphs themselves. As an example, there’s a powerful scene in the fourth issue where Hendricks is laid up in bed after her injury and receives a visit from her commanding officer who laments the fact that after all the effort they put into her training they couldn’t even get one mission out of her. That she subsequently goes along with Davis’ plan to take out the xenomorphs makes perfect sense as someone who wants to validate their worth against a system that has written them off.
Davis also makes for an interesting companion as he struggles with his own injuries and drive to do right by humanity in his quest. However, you’re either going to have to make up your own explanation as to how a synth was able to overcome his programming regarding his original mission or hope that Wood provides one down the line. I do hope Tristan Jones, who illustrates four of the issues collected here sticks around for the long run as his detailed style provides some good drama and action. Frequent Wood collaborator Riccardo Burchielli and artist Tony Brescini also provide capable work as well. Though the plot in “Defiance” is old hat by the standards of the “Alien” franchise, the struggles of its protagonist make for compelling drama and let us experience the familiar from a new, fresh perspective.
March 10, 2017
It’s a dark and stormy night in this latest adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story from Dark Horse, both in the life of the Writer at the heart of it and in the tale he’s trying to tell. You see, the Writer is trying to tell a serious literary tale that reflects the truth of the world in his text. The problem he has is that in his tale -- that of an orphaned woman on her way to become a governess to two children of a man whose cruel glances she found both repellent and fascinating at her interview who is turned out into a storm by a mute carriage driver only to wind up at the house without a name on the night of all nights -- keeps slipping into self-parody. As he laments this recurring issue, the Writer is forced to deal with various household issues. Such as his deformed Aunt Agatha who is acting up again in the attic, the sudden reappearance of his long-lost twin brother who immediately demands a duel to the death, and the various things that skitter in the shadows of his mansion.
If the title of this story wasn’t enough of a clue, then it bears mentioning that you’re not meant to take any of this remotely seriously. It’s basically Gaiman, and by extension Shane Oakley who adapted the story and provided the art, goofing on the many tropes and conventions of gothic literature. A little familiarity with these things, as well as some patience, is required to fully appreciate what’s being done here. Still, the “wink and a nod” approach works with respect to the humor and the sillier bits in this story. There’s also some cleverness to be had in seeing the Writer realize that the the solution to his woes may lie in that most disrespected and least reputed of genres: fantasy. But what form does fantasy take in this kind of gothic world? Gaiman has an answer that works, and it’s a credit to Oakley and his stylishly pointed art that it’s as satisfying as it is in graphic novel form.
March 8, 2017
The new movie is great. As for the comics which helped inspire it, well...
March 6, 2017
The latest Moto Hagio manga to come from Fantagraphics features a first chapter that is confusing, weird, and likely going to turn off readers unaccustomed to the kind of strangeness this old-school shojo mangaka likes to traffic in. It takes place on the island of Barbara and focuses on young Aoba and her two friends, Taka and Pine, who can also fly. There’s also a long-haired oracle who specializes in interpreting dreams (and can fly as well), plant women who live on the roof of Aoba’s house, rumors of cannibalism on the island, and the story of how Aoba was brought to the island by the moon princess. That’s a lot to dump on the reader in the first chapter and some of the odd ways that the characters interact with each other make it very hard to get a handle on where Hagio is going with any of this. It’s to the point where Aoba’s encounter with an unknown man with a dark hat and coat hiding in the fields outside of town feels like one of the least strange things there.
If you’re able to get through that first chapter, you’ll find that even if things don’t get any less crazy they do become more comprehensible. That’s because the focus shifts to a near-future setting and onto Dr. Watarai, a dream pilot who specializes in entering people’s dreams mostly to get information in criminal cases. However, he’s now being asked to look into the psyche of a girl who has been in a dreamlike state for the past seven years following the brutal murder of her parents. What he finds there leads him and his estranged son Kiriya down a rabbit hole of craziness involving poltergeist phenomena, pharmaceutical rejuvenation therapy, imaginary islands, life on Mars, cannibalism, and more. It’s not hard for me to see how people could be put off by this level of craziness, but I was entertained by it more often than not. “Otherworld Barbara” mainly kept me reading to see how strange things would get, yet there’s also some emotional resonance in how Watarai struggles to untangle this mystery and reconnect with his son. While the kind of crazy we get here isn’t too dissimilar from the unforgettable train wreck that was “Future Diary,” Hagio shows us how that approach can work when the madness in the story is organic rather than (likely) motivated by impending deadlines.
March 5, 2017
You know who we haven’t seen much of during Jason Aaron’s run chronicling the adventures of Marvel’s Thunder God? Loki. That might have been down to the fact that the character was already being used, quite well I might add, in the pages of “Young Avengers” and “Loki: Agent of Asgard.” Still, Aaron has managed just fine without him. Yet with a brand new Thor on the block it was inevitable that she’d eventually lock horns with her namesake’s greatest nemesis. It doesn’t start off that way, as Malekith makes it known that the War of the Realms he is backing with the help of Roxxon’s Dario Agger will eventually be coming to Earth. For now, they both have their sights set on Alfheim, the home of the Light Elves. Even though Thor is still persona non grata in Asgard, she sees it as her duty to help out with this battle. While Malekith and Agger may have magic and technology to back up their attack, they didn’t come prepared to fight a thunder god. So it’s a good thing they’ve convinced Loki to show what he can do against this all-new, all-different Thor.
The good news is that Aaron is clearly caught up on Loki’s old and recent history and his take on the character feels in line with what we’ve seen of him in his previous series. So not only do we get lots of clever snark from the maestro of mischief, but the idea that he’s playing a longer and deeper game than those around him suspect is a more plausible idea than seeing him make a full-on return to villainy. Russell Dauterman is also back for all five issues in this volume and his greatness is present on every page. It’s due to the impressive levels of detail and scale that Dauterman captures here that the ideas in Aaron’s script -- Thor taking on tanks in Alfheim! Thor fighting every Loki ever! Thor fighting Odin in space while civil war rages in Asgard! -- really feel as epic as they do.
As good as this stuff is, the volume overall comes off as kind of a downer. While Aaron struck a nice balance between giving Jane Foster as Thor a solid win while not really foiling the bad guys’ long-term plans in her first outing, that doesn’t happen here. The good guys come up short on pretty much every front here with Malekith and company either succeeding overtly or behind the scenes. That results in this volume, for all its virtues, coming off as one of the tougher reads in Aaron’s run so far.
March 4, 2017
Brubaker and Phillips are at it again. One of comics’ most reliable writer/artist teams, to the point where even their lesser projects turn out to be pretty readable, is back with a brand new title which tackles an all-new subject for them. This time around it’s the concept of vigilantism and what makes an average citizen decide to take the law into their own hands. While this may not be a new concept, the creators grounded, character-driven approach makes for a believable and compelling read.
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March 3, 2017
Image’s 25th Anniversary celebration rolls on with these solicitations. So what can we look forward to along those lines in May? Well, the issue of “Saga” which kicks off its next arc will only set you back 25 cents. For those of you who are nostalgic for the time when Todd McFarlane actually drew “Spawn,” there’s a “Director’s Cut” edition of that title’s first issue and a “Vault” edition of the first seven issues which will present them in their original artboard form. That last one will set you back $175, but there’s also a chance you could wind up with a one-of-a-kind sketch from McFarlane as they’re being randomly inserted into these editions. If that kind of chance interests you but you’re not that big of a McFarlane fan, then maybe the Image Blind Box is for you. 1,992 of these boxes will be produced and they contain 25 copies of the 17 (so far) new Image launches for this year. Don’t worry about the overlap, as there will be an assortment of variant, B&W, sketch, and blank covers for each of these titles. Including lots of variants is certainly an appropriate way to celebrate Image’s anniversary, though not really a good one in my opinion. Better to remind readers about all the good comics being published by the company today than the variant-fueled speculator madness the company spawned *rimshot* back in the 90’s and which almost sank the industry.
Fans of “The Walking Dead” should also be aware that 500 of these boxes will contain “Here’s Negan” #1 which collects the first half of the comics detailing the origin of the character from “Image+”. This is billed as the ONLY collection of said strips, but I’m going to hold out for some kind of complete edition down the line. Also, the Blind Box will set you back $125. With all that said, are there any takers?
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