October 16, 2017
Why yes, part of my plan for burning through all those titles last week was so that I could talk up the latest volume of this excellent series some more. With the New York Times having divested itself of reporting bestseller lists for manga (and graphic novels in general), there’s no way to tell whether or not this series has taken our shores by storm. At least, not until the (inevitable, I hope) anime adaptation arrives. Until then, expect regular reviews from my end as I follow the scanlations and then re-read them by picking up the print editions.
Re-reading the series in print form also illustrates how well the series holds up after spending several months away from it. The culinary dungeon dishes are just as creative this second time around as we learn about breadmaking with Orcs, how golems can be used as portable fields, find out just how filling the food in magic paintings can be, and how to spot treasure bugs. Most amusing in this volume is Senshi’s preparation of interfaith holy water to ward off some chilly wraiths. While his method for concocting it is rightly described as “slapdash,” the results are unexpected and as delicious as you’d expect.
There’s also a greater emphasis on character development and worldbuilding in this volume as well. Marcille emerges as a more well-rounded character as she actually has good reasons for the arguments she strikes up against the Orcs in the second chapter and with Senshi’s anti-magic sensibilities in the final one. Mangaka Ryoko Kui sets up some long-running subplots here with the introduction of another group of treasure hunters and some history of the dungeon that’s snuck into Laios’ adventure in the painting which also features a potential encounter with the series’ big bad. While the series could sustain itself on Kui’s imaginative dungeon dishes, the setup here shows that she has more ambitious plans for the series. Plans which will eventually pay off in addition to providing even more inspired deliciousness along the way.
October 15, 2017
While the title may be there to conjure the same kind of specific nostalgia as “X-Men: Gold,” this is basically the latest iteration of “All-New X-Men” featuring the time-displaced version of the team. Dennis Hopeless’ take on them may have been the most pleasant surprise of the last “X-Men” relaunch, but this new direction from Cullen Bunn isn’t quite there yet. It’s not that he’s lacking for decent story ideas as this volume has the team mixing it up with Black Tom and the Juggernaut as a shakedown mission, encountering a batch of Sentinels that want to protect mutants under orders from their new master, throwing down with a batch of castaways from the Ultimate Universe, and finding out that Madripoor has its own brand of vigilante heroes.
There’s plenty going on here and that’s even before I get to the fact that Magneto is now overseeing this team. I’m always up for having Bunn write the character but his work on the last iteration of “Uncanny” and now this haven’t hit the same heights that his “Magneto” solo series did. A bigger issue is that while Magneto is a relatively small part of this volume, his actions are the most interesting thing about it as we quickly find out that he has his own plans. As for the rest of the cast, much of Bunn’s dialogue and characterization comes off as perfunctory and uninspired. The easy camaraderie that drove previous iterations of “All-New” is in short supply here and a lot of the dialogue feels pretty generic too.
Then you’ve got the art in this volume which features work from six different artists. I wouldn’t have minded seeing an entire volume, or even just an arc from one of them -- Jorge Molina in particular. Yet the mishmash of styles over the six issues collected here is as distracting as you’d expect. Still, getting a more consistent art team feels like the most fixable of the problems this series has at this point. I didn’t think this first volume of “X-Men: Blue” was outright bad, but at this point it’s a definite step down compared to what we’ve had before from these characters.
October 14, 2017
The last time we had an “X-Men” relaunch like this I wrote about how Jeff Lemire’s first volume of “Extraordinary” felt like the welcome kind of nostalgia. That remained somewhat true for the rest of his short tenure on that title before the whole “Inhumans vs. X-Men” business kinda drove it into the ground. Now we’re back with an even bigger push towards nostalgia with the two core titles “X-Men: Gold” and “X-Men: Blue,” names specifically picked to recall the glory days of the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee “X-Men” #1 era. Veteran “Wolverine” and “Spider-Man” writer, as well as DCTV scripter on “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” Marc Guggenheim is leading the charge on “Gold” and his efforts with this volume are generally successful. So long as you’re looking for a better-written version of the kind of stories and style the X-Men delivered back in the 90’s.
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October 13, 2017
Launching what is effectively the latest iteration of “X-Force” -- violent mutants employing violently morally dubious solutions to violent mutant problems -- as a prelude to a crossover doesn’t strike me as the best way to go about things. So I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed the issues collected here as Old Man Logan, Sabretooth, Domino, and special guest star the Totally Awesome Hulk team up to take on a secret organization that’s sending cyborg attackers after our heroes. These aren’t just any old cyborgs, however. This organization is augmenting them with the abilities of the mutants they’ve captured. Now they’re looking to complete the set of abilities in order to create the ultimate weapon to wipe out mutantkind.
It’s certainly not the most original “X-Men” story I’ve read, but writer Greg Pak keeps the action coming at a fast pace and has the characters deliver some quality banter between each other. I was going to say that he has a good handle on them, but Old Man Logan basically feels indistinguishable from vanilla Wolverine at this point. Pak also ignores the ongoing business of Sabretooth’s “inverted” personality to deliver something closer to the classic version of the character. Add Domino’s snark and Hulk’s arrogant intelligence to the mix and you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for a quality action story.
Assuming you don’t have too much of a problem with the main artist on these issues: Greg Land. While he’s developed a pretty bad reputation over the years for the obviousness of how he traces his art from other materials, what’s here represents one of his better efforts. The “posed” nature of his art is well-camouflaged here and the linework feels less over-rendered. Ibraim Roberson also pitches in with some stylistically consistent work on a couple issues while Robert Gill does a capable job on the one issue of “Totally Awesome” collected here. So even if it is odd to jump right into a crossover from the start of this new series, Pak and company actually manage to make that prospect appealing rather than threatening.
October 11, 2017
After years of toiling in near-obscurity turning out quality series like “The Paybacks” writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw finally hit it big earlier this year with their miniseries “God Country.” Now having read it, it’s easy to see why this miniseries caught on the way it did. It’s a textbook example of how to mix high fantasy action with grounded human emotions in an entertaining and affecting way.
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October 9, 2017
I look at my “to review (maybe)” shelf and realize that there are a lot of “next volume in a manga series” taking up the front half of it. You’ve probably noticed there’s a certain trend to when I review manga on this site and it’d take me a solid month to get through some of these titles before I get to the ones that I really do have stuff to talk about. Not that any of these volumes are bad (well, one has kind of been trending that way for some time..), but I kinda want to at least give some indication that I’m still reading these titles and why. So click on the link below to find out which titles are still good, still chugging along, and are still in their “Get off my lawn you damn kids!” phase.
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October 8, 2017
Before I sat down to write this I was preparing to dance around the reveal of the main threat for this second (and sadly, final) arc of “Mercury Heat.” Never mind the fact that it’s spoiled on the back of the volume. Then I went and re-read my review of the first volume and saw that I had already mentioned that the Crossed would be the villains here. “How the hell does that work?” you may be wondering. Well, this being a Kieron Gillen joint the answer is as clever as you’d expect. It all starts with Mercury cop Luiza Bora stuck in low-end police gigs busting enhanced thugs when she’s contacted by Grapevine, her A.I. manager, with a high-paying job that’s perfect for her skillset. A science lab on the planet has suddenly gone dark and they want Luiza to figure out what’s gone wrong. To that end they’ve also paired her up with a copy of her former partner’s personality, professional tech/sexist pig Lucas Ansom, to provide backup.
Lucas isn’t much use at first when they encounter the Crossed because his knowledge of the threat is based on the movies he’s seen that feature them. Luiza, on the other hand, is a rational, intelligent human and knows that the Crossed are just fiction and that something else must be going on here. Her efforts to get to the bottom of this result in a much sharper and more fun piece of sci-fi action than we got in the first volume. Getting the bulk of the worldbuilding out of the way there has apparently freed Gillen to lean into his strengths as a storyteller here. Returning artist Nahuel Lopez also delivers some fine work that impresses with both action and gore. He’s still a little stiff when it comes to having his characters display proper emotion, but I’m optimistic he’ll get there eventually.
Vol. 2 of “Mercury Heat” will unfortunately be the last we’ll see of Luiza and her world as Gillen mentioned a while back in his weekly newsletter that the series never caught on sales-wise for it to continue. It’s a shame as the improvement seen in this second volume not only makes it an easier recommendation to existing fans of Gillen’s work, but leaves me wondering how good vol. 3 would’ve been.
October 7, 2017
I’m convinced that writer Nick Spencer conceived this volume as a final test to weed out the readers who aren’t completely on board with his “Hydra Cap” storyline. How else to explain the “Civil War II: The Oath” one-shot where Cap demonstrates an almost demonic glee as he gloats to a comatose Tony Stark about how everything’s going his, and Hydra’s, way. If you’ve merely been tolerating Spencer’s take on Cap then the amount of smug arrogance on display is likely going to be hard to take. Speaking as someone who has been on board with Spencer’s plan, the level of villainy on display from Mr. Rogers reaches almost comical levels. I can easily see the writer cackling with glee as he wrote some of the dialogue here.
It’s worth noting that “The Oath” does a good job of laying out the road plan for “Secret Empire” with the rest of the volume filling things in further. We get more of Steve’s Cosmic Cube-altered history that mainly has the aim of separating Hydra from the Nazis. Some may find this to be too little, too late for them, but it works for me. Particularly in the way it sets up Cap’s showdown with the Red Skull and we see the Nazi finally get the poetic justice he so richly deserves.
We also get to see Steve work to undermine the new planetary shield set up by Captain Marvel, the establishment of a new Hydra High Command, Maria Hill on the run in Madripoor, Taskmaster and Black Ant goofing their way into a job with Hydra, and more. In fact, there’s so much going on that Marvel had to get TWELVE different artists to illustrate the issues contained in this volume. Some of the art is quite good, a good portion is as rushed as you’d expect, and there’s very little stylistic consistency to hold the volume together. The basic storytelling in the issues themselves is still solid and the final issue works as a great springboard into “Secret Empire.” I was left wishing that the collected edition of the event was out now, but your mileage may vary depending on how interesting you’ve found the whole “Hydra Cap” storyline so far.
October 6, 2017
The Turtles and Usagi have had a long fruitful relationship dating back to the late 80’s when Kevin Eastman asked Stan Sakai if he wanted an Usagi action figure as part of the Turtles’ toy line. Since then Usagi and the Turtles have met up a few times in comics and Usagi even guest-starred on an episode of the Turtles’ original animated series. With the most recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic showing that it can re-incorporate and re-imagine all aspects of the franchise’s history into more sensical and entertaining forms (Hello Rat King!) the announcement of another team-up with Usagi didn’t just feel inevitable but welcome.
Having read this latest crossover, and after shelling out $15 for the fancy hardcover edition, the actual story leaves a little to be desired. It’s simple, features one of comics’ greatest villains in a token role, doesn’t play up the character interactions as much as it should, but at least features some lovely art from Sakai and interesting extras.
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October 4, 2017
The genuinely awful sequel that everyone says its predecessor was.