After vol. 17 spent its last couple of chapters setting things up for Nagisa and Karma to pull a heist on the International Space Station, I was expecting some slam-bang action to be in the offing. That’s… not what happens here. The two middle-school-kids get the drop on the astronauts and after some posturing and exposition some mutual respect develops and everyone comes away from the encounter happy. Especially the kids because they’re able to fix things so that Koro-Sensei now has less than a one-percent chance of exploding and destroying the Earth in the process. That’s great! At least, it would be if it didn’t read to me like the time Spider Jerusalem learned that only one percent of the people with the same kind of degenerative brain disease he had didn’t turn into drooling vegetables. And we all know how that turned out. (Because everyone here has read “Trasnsmetropolitan,” right?) This basically winds up being an opening that I was expecting much better things from given the series’ history.
At least things pick up in the rest of the volume as it’s mostly a lot of feel-good filler as “Assassination Classroom” starts to ramp things up for the finale. We get to see how Koro-sensei is trying to help the kids with their highschool entrance exams and it’s as full of wacky hijinks as you’d expect. Particularly when everyone in the class has to dance around how some of them aren’t doing as well as others. The craziness gets knocked up a notch when Valentine’s Day rolls around and the exchanging of chocolates begins. There’s plenty of (comedic) drama involved in seeing how the girls go about giving chocolates to the guys they like, with a special focus shown to two supporting characters as one of them finds out how wrong things can go when you combine romance with trying to assassinate Koro-sensei. It’s good times all around after the opening chapter is done with, which is good because it looks like the bad guys are starting to get their act together. Which is a good time for that as we’ve only got four volumes left in the series.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever get an official statement from Bendis as to why he decided to leave Marvel or DC. There are plausible-sounding rumors as to why, though. He had pretty much accomplished everything he wanted at the company, from writing all of his favorite characters to creating several new ones. At this point, however, his books weren’t selling at the same level they had in the past and he couldn’t expect a substantial raise with his contract coming up for renewal soon. Then there’s the fact that with the dissolution of the Marvel Comics Creative Committee that advised the people who made the movies he had no input on the film side of the company. These are a lot of little things in comparison to a pretty explosive argument he had with Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel in response to the latter’s assertion that “diversity doesn’t sell.”
Taken all together, it’s easier to understand why Bendis decided to give the Distinguished Competition a shot. Still, this means he’s going to have to build up all new relationships with the editors and staff at DC and get adjusted to the way they do things. They do place a higher value on continuity over there, so I don’t think the casual disregard Bendis displayed towards it will play well there. Honestly, if he does wind up leaving DC within a year I won’t be too surprised. Unless he ditches the comics-writing portion of his deal to focus on the involvement in their films he’s been promised as well.
Is there anything we can learn from Berganza-gate over at DC? Based on what has happened it would appear that the only way sexual harassers can be dealt with at a comic book company is if their notoriety reaches the mainstream. Superman group editor Eddie Berganza’s behavior was well-known within the industry but he wound up having a 25-year career within it. While many creators refused to work with him as a result and there were repeated calls within fandom for him to be fired, it took that Buzzfeed article for it to actually happen. Berganza, however, was the most notorious example of a sexual harasser continuing to work in the industry and that likely made him an easy target. Whether or not Buzzfeed or some other media outlet decides to dig deeper and uncover staff with behavior as bad or even worse than Berganza remains to be seen.
In more positive news, DC has made Jonathan Hickman an offer to come work for them. This is after they asked him to pitch some ideas to them and he did so. Hickman is one of the very rare creators I follow who has yet to truly disappoint me. If he does decide to write something for DC I’ll be sure to read it, whatever it is. Along these lines, we’re still waiting for word on what Bendis’ first DC title will be. He did say years ago that he’d love to write Zatanna, so that’s a real possibility.
Another month without any manga solicitations, and no the Zelda Encyclopedia doesn’t count. We do have word of some manga-adjacent announcements from the company in the past month, however. “Berserk”-related ones, even. The “Berserk Official Guidebook” will be published next March and will set you back $15 for 200 pages about the world of the series and its characters. This guidebook was originally published in Japan back in 2016 and, as a result of the manga’s *ahem* glacial publication schedule, will actually be relatively current with its source material when it hits our shores.
The other “Berserk”-related publication from the publisher is the light novel “The Flame Dragon Knight.” This isn’t coming from mangaka Kentaro Miura himself, though he did provide the cover and several illustrations for it, but writer Makoto Fukami. If you’re not familiar with Fukami then you should know that he handled the series composition work for both seasons of the new “Berserk” anime that premiered within the past year. So if you were actually able to enjoy the anime in spite of its reputedly atrocious animation quality, he’s likely the guy you have to thank for that.
Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” is home to lots of random bits of weirdness. The series was designed accommodate this, but there’s one bit that has always felt more out of place than others. That would be the alien spirit Hellboy met back in vol. 5, “Conqueror Worm.” It’s one thing to have the character encounter all manner of supernatural creatures from all over the planet, but to bring in aliens to the mix? That just feels a step too far. Still, the alien’s presence is something that fans have wondered about for years. One such fan in particular, Chris Roberson -- a seasoned veteran of the Mignolaverse, put the question to Mignola a couple years back and wound up with the chance to finally tell its story.
Does this volume lead “anywhere interesting?” Well, it starts off by introducing us to Kei’s mother. She’s a ruthlessly blunt and pragmatic person who has some choice words for her son in regards to the situation he has found himself in. For a series that usually winds up going down the most conventional path I appreciated her spiky presence. We also learn that she fell in love with Kei’s father because he had a softer, sentimental side to him which explains a lot, really. It’s why Kei projects an outwardly cold and pragmatic personality but ultimately does the right thing as demanded by convention. Like come back to his fellow comrades to finish the fight with Sato. This development shouldn’t come off as a spoiler for anyone who has been following “Ajin” up to this point.
Other goings-on in this volume include Tosaki settling things with his formerly comatose girlfriend, a look at the American demi-human research institute, and more about Sato’s backstory. I’m not sure if that last bit was really necessary to the plot, but it does include the most action in this volume so that’s a plus. Speaking of everyone’s favorite psychopath, his group has been contacted by the government to initiate secret talks in order to bring an end to his attacks. While Sato wants to make sure they’re armed as necessary going into these talks, that doesn’t sit well with Tanaka who’s had his fill of bloodshed in this crusade. It’s a development that’s meant to inject some character-driven drama, but fails to do so because we’ve seen how underhanded the government can be when dealing with demi-humans. In this case, Sato’s precautions come off as practical instead of bloodthirsty.
Between this secret meeting with Sato’s group and the government, Kei’s final-chapter vow to take him down, and the warning that “The FINAL battle is about to begin,” “Ajin” gives every indication that it’s going to wrap up in the near future. In theory this should make me excited. However, if you’ve been reading my reviews of every volume of this title so far it should be clear that this series has been too much of a mess for that to happen. I’ve followed it this far, so I figure I might as well stick around to see how it ends and if it manages to actually deviate from genre convention at any point along the way.
Looking back on my review of the first volume of this series I was surprised to see how negative I was towards it. There’s no denying that much of it fell in line with the depressing grind I’ve come to expect from Rick Remender’s creator-owned works. Yet, when vol. 2 came up on the weekly shipping lists I ordered it without a second thought. Either my memory is starting to slip, or this series wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. (Not like Remender and Tocchini’s “Low” -- that first volume was still far too much of a downer to consider giving a second chance.) I’m glad I picked up this second volume as it shows more promise than the first. Whenever its focus is on the title’s big bad, that is.
I’ve mentioned before that writer Dennis Hopeless’ run on “All-New X-Men” was the most pleasant surprise of the previous round of “X-Men” relaunches. It’s why I decided to pick up his latest series the “Jean Grey” solo title. Now, I don’t think the comics-reading world was really clamoring for a solo series about the time-displaced teenage Jean Grey. Particularly one where she deals with the return of the Phoenix. Again. So it’s a credit to Hopeless that he makes the six issues collected here a lot more fun than that setup would suggest.
While these six issues are primarily concerned with Jean’s reaction to the Phoenix’s return, they also double as reasonably self-contained superhero stories where she teams up with a number of other heroes. Expect to see the likes of Hope Summers, Namor, the Odinson, Psylocke, and Doctor Strange as Jean tries to get some insight into this impending threat… as well as the mysterious voice that’s knocking around in her head. The stories are fun little tales with enough twists to keep boredom at bay. Better still is Hopeless’ zippy dialogue which is both entertaining to read and captures the voice of each character quite well.
Though this volume also boasts four different artists tackling the six issues collected here, it’s not as much a cause for concern as you may think. Victor Ibanez handles the first three and he turns in some well-rendered versatile work. He’s makes illustrating a fight in Kyoto, fiery brain damage, and an undersea battle look credible and interesting to behold. Harvey Tolibao gives us the Odinson’s story with an impressive level of detail attached to it. Anthony Piper’s adventure with Psylocke doesn’t have that detail, but still delivers on characterization and storytelling. Paul Davidson rounds things out and shows that he’s at his best when he’s given some really crazy stuff to draw while also taking us on a nostalgia-infused trip through Jean’s history. That appears to be the series’ other aim as the reveal on the last page makes clear. It’ll be a trip worth taking if Hopeless and company can maintain this level of quality.
While Mike Mignola is best known for the supernatural action and strangeness he has delivered to great effect in his many Mignolaverse titles and other projects, he’s not a stranger to humor. Hellboy has been known to punctuate just about all of his fights with a good deadpan quip and some of the short stories he’s been involved in have basically just been jokes with weird punchlines at the end. “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” is the first side project of his that I’ve read where humor has been the driving point of the narrative. It involves two fearless vampire hunters, Professor J.T. Meinhardt and his associate Mister Knox, who aim to employ the title character in their attempt to take down the evil Count Golga and all the other vampires he has invited to take part in the satanic orgy he has set up to celebrate Walpurgis. You see, Mr. Higgins and his wife once had an encounter with Golga that left him and his wife… changed. Now he only wishes for the sweet release of death that the professor has promised in return for his help. However, Golga is a crafty vampire and has his own plans for dealing with Prof. Meinhardt by inviting him to the celebration.
I honestly don’t know why the professor would accept such an invitation. Unless it’s because of his Very British nature and he just didn’t want to come off as rude towards the evil vampire lord who has pledged his loyalty to Satan Himself. “Very British” is how most of the humor comes off here with the incongruity between the polite upper-crust vampires and their base nature. It’s more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. More to my liking is the art from Warwick Johnson-Caldwell whose exaggerated style does a good job of splitting the difference between comedy and horror. I don’t think his work will be to everyone’s liking, but I enjoyed it enough to hope that he’ll work with Mignola again on another project. Maybe on something that draws more than a few bemused chuckles from me.