April 30, 2017
I’ve mentioned before that the best thing Rob Liefeld has done as a comic creator is to let other talented individuals like Brandon Graham and Alan Moore play around with the characters he’s made. However, he’s also responsible for giving a lot of creators and industry people their big break when he co-founded Image back in the 90’s. One of these people is Eric Stephenson, a fact which I was reminded about when I saw the solicitation for Bloodstrike #1 Remastered Edition for which he did the scripting duties back in ‘93. While I don’t think anyone should be paying money for a remastered edition of an old Liefeld comic, even one that was done at the height of his popularity, it’s certainly worth noting that Stephenson has gone on to much bigger and better things. Like having been the publisher of Image comics since 2008 and a key player in “Image Central” prior to that.
What I’m getting at is that there’s a decent chance that Image today may have looked very different, and produced much less noteworthy comics, had Liefeld not hired Stephenson to work on his terrible 90’s superhero comics. Funny how things work out sometimes in this industry, isn’t it?
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April 29, 2017
So… Marvel has had kind of a terrible month in terms of PR, haven’t they? From the contents of David Gabriel’s summit with retailers, to the Anti-Semitic, Anti-Christian messages hidden in “X-Men Gold” #1, to the ongoing controversies surrounding “Secret Empire,” the comics side of the company is currently going through one of those phases where it can’t seem to do anything right. I say “phases” because it’s been in worse situations before (Anyone remember the bankruptcy?) and survived them as well. This time around, the challenge isn’t just to survive but grow its readership following whatever it has planned for the aftermath of “Secret Empire.” With most of its key titles selling at historic lows, they’ve got a lot to do in that regard. For the good of the industry too because it needs a strong Marvel -- in order to survive until Image is strong enough to take its place.
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April 28, 2017
The “Dark Days” prelude continues with “The Casting” in this month’s solicitations, though the main event will kick off next month with “Dark Nights: Metal” courtesy of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. That expectations for this are sky-high after the success of their “Batman” run, but they managed to thrive on going bigger with each arc there so I’m interested to see how they’ll adapt to masterminding a universe-spanning event. Alongside this event will be the launches of new series from the likes of Snyder, Dan Abnett, James Tynion IV, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, and Kenneth Rocafort. These will be featuring all-new characters with the intent of building new fans for the DC Universe. It’s also reported to be masterminded by DC co-publisher Dan Didio (who’s also co-writing one of these new titles with Justin Jordan) after Geoff Johns ran the “Rebirth” show. Knowing this, I’m going to have to take these new titles on a case-by-case basis since Johns has shown over the years that he’s the better writer.
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April 26, 2017
We’re going outside Dark Horse’s solicitations for the above-board talk this month. That’s because IDW will be publishing (co-publishing?) a crossover between the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Usagi Yojimbo.” If that team-up sounds like such a natural fit that you’re wondering why they haven’t done this before, then you’re either not old enough or have just plain forgotten about the time(s) that they did before. Usagi actually did show up on an episode of the old “Ninja Turtles” animated series from the 90’s and got an action figure out of it. As for the Turtles, they guest-starred in an arc of “Usagi” back when the two series were published by Mirage. Said arc can be found in “Usagi Yojimbo vol. 8: Shades of Death” or in the first “Usagi Yojimbo Saga” omnibus from Dark Horse.
As for this latest crossover, it’ll be a forty-page one-shot from “Usagi” creator Stan Sakai. Though the setup of the title character on a quest to save Japan is fairly standard issue, the fact that Jei will be standing in his way is quite notable. This is because whenever the two cross paths it usually results in some very significant developments in the comics, or an Eisner award. While I’m sure having the Turtles cross over into Usagi’s dimension will be a big help for our hero, it’s mentioned that this will be the current IDW incarnation of the characters. So while Usagi remembers the last time he met up with the Turtles, they have no idea who he is.
The one-shot will cost $8 which induces a genuine case of sticker-shock for me but is actually in line with how IDW prices extra-sized issues. There will also be a hardcover edition of this event which will include extra pinups and character studies for $15. That’s the version I’m planning to pick up, because why overpay for a little when you can overpay for a lot and get it in hardcover with extras!
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April 24, 2017
“Blade of the Immortal” certainly had plenty of irreverent moments strewn throughout its thirty-one volumes. In reading mangaka Hiroaki Samura’s other works it becomes clear that’s his default mindset and he was doing his best to suppress it while working on his magnum opus. While such irreverence can get a little wearying at times and occasionally sabotage some of the drama, the humor it brings is usually worth it. That’s the case here with the first two (digital-release-only) volumes of “Wave” as we’re introduced to Minare Koda and her complicated life situation. She’s currently working part-time at a curry restaurant whose boss is unforgiving of her eccentricities and is reeling from the fact that her last boyfriend disappeared after she loaned him 500,000 yen (around $5,000). This leads her to drunkenly vent her broken heart to a complete stranger at a bar, one who turns out to be a producer at a local radio station. Kanetsugu, the producer, was apparently so impressed by her rambling that he recorded it and plays it on his station which happens to be the one constantly piped into the restaurant where Minare works. Furious, she heads over to the station to give him a piece of her mind and winds up on the dubious but potentially rewarding road to radio stardom.
How well you enjoy “Wave” will likely come down to your thoughts on Minare herself. She’s very much a hot mess of a person, prone to coming home drunk in other people’s apartments, and even Kanetsugu (kinda accurately) remarks at one point that she’d probably be better liked if she kept her mouth shut. But Minare is also incredibly passionate about whatever she does and very quick to think on her feet. It’s because of these things that I was able to believe that Minare could make it as a radio personality, while also leading to some nerve-wracking tension about how she would respond once her boyfriend shows up again. The story can also get pretty goofy at some points, witness the sound effects people known as Piggsy and Chimpsy for obvious reasons, and while Samura’s art is mostly sharp there are more than a few panels to let you know that he was up against a deadline as he was drawing it. This all adds up to “Wave” having a rambling charm in my opinion and being a title worth checking out for those appreciative of the mangaka’s quirks.
April 23, 2017
James Tynion IV has been working on assorted Bat-titles over the past few years and either co-writing or doing various fill-in issues during Scott Snyder’s run on “Batman.” Now he’s being given his shot at the brass ring as the new writer for “Detective Comics” and has come up with a novel approach for the title: To make it a team book. Batman finds out that he and his comrades are being surveilled by an unknown faction courtesy of some advanced drones in the city. With his entire family under threat, Batman enlists the help of Kate “Batwoman” Kane to help train the likes of Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and Clayface (!?) to prepare against this unknown threat.
To the writer’s credit, this threat is revealed in fairly short order over the course of the seven issues collected here. There’s also a novel idea behind it as the thought of Batmen being trained to military specifications does sound like it’d give the Gotham-based vigilantes a genuine fight. The problem is that in order to make this work, Tynion has to break one of Batwoman’s key relationships in the process. It does produce some genuine drama but it also takes away one of the aspects that made her character unique amongst the other members of the Bat-family.
The story itself is solidly constructed with some decent twists and a nice escalation of tension right through the end. Of course, stories about Batman facing an unknown threat that has also been developed to specifically counter him are a dime-a-dozen at this point. I do think the team dynamic does help this particular take on that idea stand out a bit, and Tynion does have a good handle on the characters he’s writing. Putting Clayface on the team is easily the most inspired part about this book as a nice balance is found between the villain’s psychotic tendencies, desire to reform, and newfound showbiz aspirations. Still, “Rise of the Batman” is very much like the art from Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez: Well-constructed and detailed enough to satisfy, but too familiar to really get excited about.
April 22, 2017
What do you do when your title has a three-issue tie-in with the latest big comic event and is heading for a relaunch shortly thereafter? If you’re Mark Waid then your answer comes in three parts: Tell a story setting up a future story, tell a story setting up a new series (with its co-writer), and tell a flashback story that touches upon the same themes of the event.
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April 21, 2017
Here’s another series where if I had known this was going to be the last volume of it, I’d have saved doing the podcast on it until now. Anyhow, writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon’s long-running series about a professional killer reaches an ambiguous end despite the global ambitions portended at the end of the previous volume. While the success of the oil company the Killer founded with his friends, cartel scion Mariano and political fixer Haywood, has certainly led to a better life for them including a career in politics for Mariano. He quickly convinces the Killer that his third-world nation needs their own kind of James Bond to do their dirty work and Matz has some cynical fun with this setup. Not for long, though, as it turns out that Mariano’s ambitions are running over some of America’s interests while he’s also developed a bad habit of getting high on his own supply. While the Killer has managed to stay one step ahead of the law until now, what happens when he and his family are faced with a threat that has unlimited resources and tenacity at its disposal?
The supreme achievement of this series is that it has managed to evoke a great deal of sympathy for someone I shouldn’t care much about at all. Even though he’s a remorseless killer through and through, the title character has still managed to show a remarkable amount of depth as he accumulated friends, family, and success in fields that didn’t involve murder. That remains true here as he sticks to his principles even as those around him do not and winds up paying the price for it. Even then, the Killer’s fall feels more like a slump as his losses are pitched in a low-key manner and lack the fireworks you usually see in crime stories.
While this approach works as Matz and Jacamon tighten the screws, and leads to some good scenes like the Killer’s parting from his wife, the story ultimately peters out in the end. There’s no real closure to be had, unless you were a fan of Matz’s cyincal anti-capitalist ranting throughout the latter half of the series. That stuff is entertaining up to a point with me, and certainly not the basis for a satisfying ending. Still, I have to admire the creators’ guts to end the series without serving up any definitive judgment on the Killer himself. It’s true to the spirit of “The Killer,” even if this finale left me appreciating how much more deftly Matz and Jacamon set up and demolished expectations back in the first two volumes.
April 19, 2017
Wherein Brandon Graham and company try to make the best of what Rob Liefeld gave then.
April 17, 2017
Kodansha Comics should be applauded for bringing an old-school (read: originally published in the 70’s) manga to our shores. Ditto for the fact that it’s coming from mangaka Leiji Matsumoto, who is probably better known for the anime spun off of his works out here than the manga they’re based on. The art is also generally pretty appealing with its varied sci-fi landscapes and quirky character designs. That’s where my praise for this title ends as the actual storytelling being done here is pretty terrible. Most of the stories here concern an orphan boy named Hiroshi Umino and his efforts to travel the sea of stars. He does this by building his own ships, which only seem to last him long enough to get to the next planet, where he scrapes by doing odd jobs until he can build his next ship. It’s during one of these stints that he meets the legendary pirate Emeraldas who happens to take an interest in the boy and goes about helping him through the galaxy in her own stoic way.
If you’re wondering why most of the stories in this volume are about Hiroshi rather than its title character then congratulations! You’ve recognized the biggest problem with “Queen Emeraldas.” Even though Emeraldas has presence, a cool scar, and is less hesitant to gun down fools who get in her way than a pre-”Special Edition” Han Solo, this isn’t really her story. I might have been able to get past that if Hiroshi was a compelling protagonist in his own right, but that is so not the case here. He’s kind of a whiner who has almost everything in the story handed to him by Emeraldas or guys who identify with his spirit. There’s also plenty of talk about what it means to be a man journeying through space, so if you’re allergic to that kind of stuff then consider yourself warned. As for the stories themselves, they’re straightforward affairs that offer no real surprises.
I should note that this volume is a hardcover edition with glossy paper stock collecting over 400 pages of manga for $25. I’ll admit to that being a pretty decent value for your money. However, the experience of reading it was such that after ordering this from Amazon at a nearly 60% discount I still felt ripped off afterwards.