Are you looking forward to Robert Kirkman’s new Image series “Oblivion Song?” I’ve got some good news for you if that’s the case. You can expect the first six issues of the series to ship on time as solicited! How do I know this? Because Kirkman has already sent advance copies of the first volume to select retailers to show that the first six issues are done and they won’t be on the hook for an incomplete series when it goes on sale. It’s a nice way to try and foster some confidence with retailers… and allow them to make a little extra cash on the side. If you’re thinking that some of these retailers have decided to try and flip these advance copies for as much money as they can get, then you’d be very right. They’re well within their right to and I’m sure Kirkman realized this was going to happen when he did this. The “Advance Copy/Not For Resale” bits on the cover do make for a sweet variant edition. At least, they will until the mass-market collected edition comes out in eight or so months and buyer’s remorse sets in for those who paid $250 or so to read it before everyone else.
Mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki cranks up the action in this volume as the Federation and Zeon forces embark on their respective operations to get the secrets of the Reuse P Device from the Nanyang Sect, and take a few potshots at each other in the process. We start off with Darryl Lorenz and his team extracting a source from under heavy fire only to be chased down a river by three very determined pilots in their mobile suits. Darryl has showed that he’s one of the best in zero-g, but now he has to prove that he’s capable of the same greatness on land. As for his rival, Io Fleming has been given another Gundam to pilot and we see that he hasn’t lost a step in the time that he’s been absent from combat. Some of the crew he’s a part of may have their misgivings about the pilot’s cocky nature and his history, but I’m sure they’ll come around. Probably when the underwater Zeon craft that’s been tailing them decides to make its move.
The action here is top-notch, but I’m also happy to report that character development hasn’t been completely discarded here. There’s an interesting bit where one of the pilots who’s supposed to be supporting Darryl decides to watch and see what he’s capable of. It’s arrogant and self-centered, but I’m really interested in seeing what Darryl’s response to this guy’s actions will be after he realizes that this guy watched but didn’t help. I also liked the scenes with the crippled pilots who wind up having to pull off a suicide mission for their uncaring Zeon commanders. Their resentment and determination to live it up before the end feels like it could burn right through the page.
There are also a couple of decent action and drama scenes in the two-chapter story that closes out the volume. “Sean, the Desert Rat” tells the story of a former member of Darryl’s Living Dead Division who has hooked up with some scavengers on Earth who wind up getting more action than they bargained for after they try to salvage a Gundam. It’s fine for what it is, which is basically filler. It may have had a rocky start but “Thunderbolt” is now at the point where I’m disappointed that the volume closes with a diversion like this as opposed to offering up more of the main story.
One of the common stories coming out of Marvel’s annus horribilis is how many comic shops experienced sharp drops in sales. Sometimes in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of dollars, but always the result of a cratering of sales regarding their Marvel product. I want to say that Marvel has been trying its best to reassure store owners that they’re going to turn things around in 2018. All I’ve seen so far in the solicitations these year is more or less a regular parade of events. The “Infinity Countdown” started last month and “The Search for Wolverine” begins here. While some of these might actually turn out to be good, what really needs to be done is to shore up the declines in the monthly titles since they’re the actual backbone of Marvel’s publishing business. The industry needs a strong Marvel -- and DC -- because without them then comic shops won’t have enough business to stay open. I’ve mentioned my hope that Image will eventually become strong enough to get past this problem, but that’s still a long way off. If Marvel’s publishing business collapses entirely then that would be a gutshot for the print comics industry.
So, what does Marvel have on offer this month to make sure that doesn’t happen?
DC screwing over Alan Moore is some very old news at this point. Even if they do find new ways to keep doing it, as is currently the case with “Doomsday Clock.” However, screwing with the artists he’s worked with on projects DC has published is new territory for them. Last week it was revealed that Promethea, star of the series of the same name from Moore and artist J.H. Williams III would be appearing in “Justice League of America” in the fight against the Queen of Fables. Only DC didn’t let Williams, who has a creator participation agreement regarding the character, know about this and he’s expressed how upset he is at this on Twitter. Similarly, Tom Strong and the rest of the Strong family are appearing in “The Terrifics” without any prior notice being given to their co-creator Chris Sprouse.
It’s not a good look for DC, but it’s probably less damaging for them than it first appears. Williams’ last project for the company was “Sandman: Overture” and he’s been on vacation from the comics industry ever since. Sprouse, after years of working for the company on a number of projects, has been doing most of his work for Marvel on titles like “Black Panther” in recent years. Given that neither creator is doing any work for DC these days, I imagine the company didn’t give much thought to letting Steve Orlando and Jeff Lemire use the characters they created in “Justice League of America” and “The Terrifics,” respectively. Of course, there’s always the chance that the use of these characters will raise their profile enough to get new readers to check out the original stories Sprouse and Williams did with Moore.
While we’re still waiting to see if the massive Disney/Fox merger is going to go through, and take all of the Fox licenses away from Dark Horse, Marvel started the year off by sniping a completely different license. After more than a decade at Dark Horse, Marvel is now the new publisher of “Conan” comics. Unlike how Disney’s acquisition of Marvel effectively gave them the “Star Wars” license, this appears to be a case of Marvel negotiating for and acquiring the rights to publish more comics based on everyone’s favorite barbarian. Marvel published hundreds of “Conan” comics through the late 70’s to early 90’s which were fondly remembered to the point where Dark Horse had a long-running trade-reprint program going for them. Now, as is the case with “Star Wars,” Marvel will likely be setting up their own reprint program for all of the “Conan” comics published by Dark Horse.
Why did this happen? Some have mentioned that it’s part of Marvel’s plan to bring all of their wayward children (read: licensed characters they produced comics for in the past) back to them. That makes a certain amount of sense given their currently dire publishing straits. I’d imagine their reasoning is that if they can take “Star Wars” and make it into a far bigger multi-title juggernaut than Dark Horse ever did then they can do the same with “Conan.” It’s disappointing that they’re choosing to do this now, after Dark Horse was so close to completing their plan to adapt all of Robert E. Howard’s stories in comic form. Still, it’s hard to argue that Marvel hasn’t done right by “Star Wars” so I’m at least optimistic regarding whatever “Conan” comics they’re going to publish now. Particularly if they decide to let Jason Aaron write one of them as he has so clearly indicated that the wants to.
A whole lot of “Hellboy” reprints, Frank Miller’s… long-awaited follow-up to “300,” and a new manga license that somehow escaped my attention await after the break.
Here’s the latest volume of the other Dark Horse manga series to get a reprieve thanks to two successful anime series. I say other series because between “Battlefront” and “Drifters” this is clearly the lesser of the two titles. It’s still not without its charms as the opening story in this volume shows. The Libra team has a new potential sponsor lined up and he’s invited them to the most exclusive restaurant in Hellsalem’s Lot, a place where the fusion of human and demon cuisine leaves its customers in a state of rapture. Given the low-class vibe most of the Libra members have, the setup is rife with comic potential which mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow delivers on in ways both expected and not. Nightow even finds time for some well-placed action as Leo manages an unexpected team-up during his bathroom break to save the restaurant from a bad man and his demon menagerie.
The other story in this volume, which takes up its remaining two-thirds, isn’t as fun because it prioritizes drama and action over comedy. It still has some interesting bits to it as it kicks off with Zap -- on the brink of death after having his ass kicked, again -- being brought to a hospital in Hellsalem’s Lot for treatment. Now, this hospital is strange even by the city’s standards because the last time it made an appearance was when the Beyond first merged with New York and Klaus and Steven had to defend the hospital from a Blood Breed and his parasitic pet dog. The action is solid, if occasionally hard to follow, and I thought Doctor Estevez’s transformation was pretty interesting. Yet the story never really manages to become anything more than one where generic bad guys attack the hospital and our heroes defeat them. When you’ve got someone like Nightow bringing his style and imagination to it that means the results will likely never be anything less than “fine.” Still, I’m left hoping that the remaining two volumes in this cycle of “Battlefront” are more like the volume’s first story than its second.
In the wake of “The Last Jedi” there’s been a lot of talk about how Captain Phasma is the Boba Fett of this new trilogy. Specifically, in how she doesn’t do a whole lot in the films themselves but has a distinctive look and presence to captivate fans. I’d also add that in regards to Fett, he came off a lot better after all the effort that was spent developing him in the Expanded Universe. Consider this miniseries, and the book that was released last year, the first steps towards affording Phasma the same status. As for the miniseries itself, it’s concerned with addressing a loose plot thread from “The Force Awakens.” Specifically: How did Phasma get out of the trash compactor after Han Solo and Finn dumped her in there?
The answer boils down to “by pure brute force,” but that’s only the start of the story. You see, Phasma’s authorization was used to bring down the shields around Starkiller base and now she has to take care of that as well. Only a lowly First Order tech accessed the records before she was able to delete them and now Phasma is on the hunt for him with a lowly pilot press-ganged into her service. The chase leads Phasma and the pilot to a harsh, mostly-inhospitable planet whose seas are riddled with monsters and is inhabited by a dwindling number of colonists.
It’s the perfect kind of hunting ground for this utterly ruthless warrior and the story is a pretty great showcase for that attribute of Phasma. Writer Kelly Thompson doesn’t give us a lot of insight into the title character’s thoughts or background (I guess you’ll have to read the book for that) and instead focuses on her determination to achieve her goal at any cost. It’s enough for this four-issue miniseries and I thought it was refreshing how the writer kept the title character efficiently ruthless throughout the length of the story. This is worth a look for people who have already taken a liking to the character, as well as for the art of Marco Checchetto. Between his work on “Shattered Empire,” “Obi-Wan & Anakin,” and the first part of “Screaming Citadel” Checchetto proving himself to be the definitive “Star Wars” artist at Marvel.
This latest volume is basically two separate arcs threaded together by illness. It’s an alien illness brought from the stars because this is the Marvel Universe after all. When an alien crash-lands on Roosevelt Island and people start dropping dead from a mysterious pathogen, Wolverine is sent in to find out what’s going on because her healing factor will help her survive the experience. Said healing factor turns out to be even more critical to stopping the outbreak than you’d think and leads to the rare kind of “Wolverine” story that’s more about self-sacrifice than slashing the bad guys. Writer Tom Taylor doesn’t skimp on the drama or action, however, and artist Leonard Kirk gives the story some crackling energy with its frantic chases and fights through the city.
Kirk ably demonstrates his sci-fi action chops in the volume’s second half as Laura and Gabby (with Jonathan the Wolverine in tow) team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to track the plague back to its source. This turns out to be a research base on a desolate moon that happens to be overrun by the Brood. What follows is a bit more conventional compared to the first half because… well, we’ve all seen “Aliens” at this point, haven’t we? Taylor and Kirk make it into an effective riff on the formula, but it’s still a riff nonetheless. We do get an appealingly cheesy development to Jonathan’s character out of all this which is another plus as well.
If there’s one thing working against this volume, it’s the sheer amount of guest stars it contains. While I’m all for having Wolverine interact with other characters in the other Marvel Universe, the first half alone has appearances from Ironheart, Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, Beast, Peter Parker, Daken, Deadpool, and Old Man Logan. The Guardians’ presence in the second half just about turns the story into an ensemble piece. At least the next arc is set to just feature Daken in a primary guest role, which is promising at the least.
Remember kids: It may not say so on the side of this volume, but this is actually vol. 2 of the new “Weapon X” series. Its first volume was a surprisingly entertaining start to what is basically the next iteration of “X-Force” and a prelude to this crossover between “The Totally Awesome Hulk.” Greg Pak writes both series and while pairing them together may seem like an incongruous move, that actually works in this story’s favor. While Amadeus “Hulk” Cho isn’t a killer, the “Weapon X” team is and they’re up against a group of scientists who are in the employ of the Reverend William Stryker. The Reverend’s goal is still the eradication of mutantkind and now he’s got a new way to do it: Using science to create a Wolverine/Hulk hybrid!
Yes, this is the storyline that gave us the Hulkverine and if you can’t get behind the awesome dumbness of that concept then this volume is definitely not for you. There are some stabs at seriousness in the way that Pak plays up the “banality of evil” when it comes to the rank-and-file scientists as well as Cho’s efforts to see the humanity in the bad guys. Most of this volume, however, is pure action-movie mayhem as our… protagonists close in on and go to war with the bad guys, all with maximum loudness. What sets it apart is that Pak has a great handle on his cast and has them playing off of each other in fun and interesting ways.
The art is generally good, though parts of it clearly have issues. Mahmud Asrar does the one-shot which kicks off the event and it’s solid work, even if I miss the brightly-colored solid linework he’s demonstrated previously. The “Weapon X” issues are from Marc Borstel who has a clean, detailed style that occasionally gives his characters a plastic sheen to them and/or bug-out eyes. Robert Gill’s “Awesome Hulk” work is the best with an appealing roughness that strikes a nice middle ground between the aforementioned artists and is great for showing us the Hulkverine -- I mean, Weapon H -- in all of its glory. Next up for the “Weapon X” crew is “The Hunt For Weapon H” and I’m all for that after his introduction here.